Storm v Eels: Five key points
Cameron Smith marks a milestone with a hard-fought win, the Eels shine in finals return, Munster sin-binning invites Eels in and Billy Slater shares in a record-breaking day.
The first player in history to not only play 356 premiership games but get his own emoji to mark the occasion, Cameron Smith said some calming words to his teammates before running out by himself to a rapturous applause from the AAMI Park faithful.
Presented the game ball by the man whose record he supplanted – Darren Lockyer – the esteem for which Smith is held was evident by those in attendance, including his wife Barb and their three children, his mother and father and legends of the game such as Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Matt Geyer and Stephen Kearney.
A scamper to end the first set of the game and put the Storm in attacking position set the tone for Melbourne's opening to the game where they looked to kill off Parramatta's hopes early before the Eels found a way to fight back.
Not only has Smith played more first grade games than anyone else but he has also been the most involved, touching the Steeden on almost every play, making mountains of tackles, kicking goals, taking kick-offs and kicks for touch when really there'd be half a dozen players in his side capable of sharing the load.
He was at it again on Saturday afternoon with 102 passes, 42 tackles, 135 kick metres and three successful kicks at goal to make it a milestone to remember.
But that is the true genius of Smith, a man who does everything in the game without ever looking like breaking a sweat and a season of supremacy is now one game away from another grand final.
Eels shine in finals return
They were given next to no chance of causing the upset yet at half-time the Eels had performed so well in their first final since 2009 that they had their fans checking their schedule for the first weekend in October.
They looked to have been caught in the headlights of a Storm onslaught in the opening quarter of the game but as Nathan Brown tried to inspire his side he was joined by Kenny Edwards who in his inimitable way brought fresh energy to the Eels offence and helped to inspire two tries in a seven-minute period to stun the home fans at half-time.
Despite losing both Daniel Alvaro and Tepai Moeroa for extended periods in the first half the Eels showed great resilience to turn the Storm away and went to half-time having completed 17 of their 18 sets.
Two quick Storm tries looked to have ended the Eels' chances but they responded with a cracking try of their own to Semi Radradra to send the game into the final minute before the result was finally out of reach.
It was the way they attacked the Storm that will have convinced coach Brad Arthur that they missed an opportunity to earn a saloon path to the Preliminary Final and that they can in fact turn the tables if they meet Melbourne again in the decider.
Munster sin bin invites Eels in
For the first 20 minutes the Storm thundered downfield and looked like racking up a score but the injection of Eels forward Kenny Edwards changed the complexion of the contest.
When the Eels finally earned some field position and a penalty 12 metres out it was Edwards who took the quick tap and ran straight at Cameron Munster who couldn't resist trying to prevent him scoring and made the tackle.
Edwards and Mitchell Moses made the case that as a professional foul it was worthy of a sin-binning and after some consideration Munster was dispatched to the sideline and the Eels struck twice in quick succession.
Kirisome Auva'a scored from the ensuing set after a good shift right and was unlucky not to have snared a second shortly after when a tap by Edwards was ruled to have gone marginally forward before Auva'a could rein it in.
As Munster waited impatiently on the sideline Parramatta scored again due to a sublime no-look pass from Mitchell Moses for Will Smith to spear across but just as they had the minor premiers on the ropes the half-time bell rang and the Storm were able to re-set.
Storm contender for try of the year
Shell-shocked from a resurgent Eels team in the second half of the first 40 minutes the Storm needed to put them back in their place early in the second term and they did so by scoring one of the tries of the season.
To be honest they actually looked haphazard the play before and their last tackle didn't start any better, with an awful pass from dummy-half that hit the ground before Tim Glasby snatched it from the hands of Cameron Smith before a chain of passing to both sides of the field that saw nine passes lead to a Nelson Asofa-Solomona offload to Kenny Bromwich to score under the posts.
They are heralded for their execution of structure but this was a purely footballing moment where skill and opportunity met in one spectacular play.
Slater shares records on Smith's big day
They were born on the same day 34 years ago so it was perhaps to be expected that Billy Slater would rack up some records of his own in Melbourne's Qualifying Final victory.
Showing the footballing smarts that have defined his stellar career, Slater earned his side a penalty when Eels back-rower Manu Ma'u changed direction in order to make contact on Slater on a kick-chase.
With the scores level at 10-all Slater positioned himself perfectly on the last play of the next set when Josh Addo-Carr toed through the ball and won the race to the footy.
His 180th career try saw him draw level with Steve Menzies for most tries in premiership history and his 18th finals try saw him move past Eddie Lumsden for the most by any player.
Interference by the Eels defence as Slater tried to get a quick play-the-ball earned his side a penalty for an eight-point lead with 19 to play and as the Eels tried to make up ground late he showed his wonderful composure at the back to ensure Parramatta didn't earn any cheap possession.