Storm hang on to beat Raiders
A brain explosion from Canberra Raiders fullback Jack Wighton midway through the second half has helped the Melbourne Storm to a 14-12 win to qualify for the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final.
Wighton was sin-binned in the 59th minute when he held down Marika Koroibete for too long following the Storm winger's huge 70-metre break down field.
With the Storm up 8-6 and the game well and truly in the balance, Melbourne were able to score through centre Cheyse Blair in the set immediately after Wighton was given his marching orders.
Ill-discipline from Raider Josh Hodgson five minutes later saw counterpart Cameron Smith kick the Storm ahead to the eventual match-winning 14 points.
The Storm will now play the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final on Sunday week to determine the 2016 NRL premiers.
The Raiders had their chances in the second half but none better than Edrick Lee's opportunity with eight minutes remaining, the Raiders winger dropping the ball with the line wide open.
Elliott Whitehead's try in the 75th minute offered the Raiders a glimmer of hope but it was too little too late.
The Raiders were battered early when Josh Papalii and Jarrod Croker were left to battle through the game following early injuries.
Raiders centre Joey Leilua failed to finish the game when he succumbed to a hamstring injury in the final 10 minutes.
The Storm secured an early 2-0 lead in the 16th minute when Smith kicked a penalty goal following a controversial penalty where Dale Finucane was ruled to have the ball stripped from his grasp.
The Raiders bounced back six minutes later when winger Jordan Rapana slammed the ball down on the white stripe past Blair and Koroibete.
Rapana's 23rd try of the year sealed the Cook Islands international's place in the Raiders' record books by scoring the most four-pointers in a season.
The Raiders – particularly Joe Tapine – did extremely well to hold up Tohu Harris and keep the lead from the Storm in the 26th minute.
But the home side wouldn't be denied in the 31st minute when Cooper Cronk in his 300th NRL game scored next to the uprights after a magical two-man cut-out ball from dummy half by Smith.
From there, the Storm would take the lead for keeps to ensure their place in next weekend's decider against the Sharks.
Melbourne Storm 14 (Cooper Cronk, Cheyse Blair tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 12 (Jordan Rapana, Elliott Whitehead tries; Aidan Sezer 2 goals) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 28,161. Half-time: Storm 8-6.