In what would be a cruel twist of fate, retiring Storm fullback Billy Slater could be rubbed out of next Sunday's grand final despite scoring two tries to help book Melbourne's passage into the decider.
The Storm dominated a depleted Cronulla 22-6 in Friday night's preliminary final at AAMI Park to claim a spot in their third consecutive grand final, but they could be without their most dynamic player.
Slater faces an agonising wait to find out on Saturday if he has been charged by the match review committee for a shoulder charge on Sharks winger Sosaia Feki in the 14th minute of what was his final outing in Melbourne.
Slater saved a try in the corner but was penalised as a result of the impact on Feki, who was bundled over the sideline courtesy of a shoulder charge from the Melbourne No.1.
Under NRL rules, a player can be charged if the contact is forceful and the player did not use, or attempt to use, his arms (including his hands) to tackle or otherwise take hold of the opposing player.
Match: Storm v Sharks
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: AAMI Park
A grade one shoulder charge is worth 200 demerit points, meaning any charge could see Slater join a star-studded list of players to be ruled out of a grand final through suspension.
Issac Luke (2014), Cameron Smith (2008) and Luke Ricketson (2004) are among a dozen or so big names suspended out of grand finals in the game's history.
The retiring Justin Hodges was the last notable player to beat a charge at the judiciary to play in the 2015 decider, able to line up for his final game after being cleared of a dangerous throw on Rooster Aidan Guerra.
Slater's shoulder charge on Feki
The NRL usually holds judiciary on Tuesday night but the Storm may ask for a Monday night hearing to ensure minimal disruption to their grand final campaign if Slater is charged and fights the match review committee's findings.
Slater missed the 2016 grand final loss against the Sharks due to a shoulder injury but managed to overcome the career-threatening injury to claim the Clive Churchill medal in Melbourne's 2017 triumph over the North Queensland Cowboys.
"I saw there was a penalty, I was going across in desperation to save the try," Slater said at the post-match media conference.
"I was at top speed. Sosaia Feki was at top speed. I actually thought he was going to step inside me so that's why I got my body in an unconventional position.
"It's pretty hard to make a conventional tackle when you're going across at top speed trying to stop a try. It was just an unfortunate collision.
"When two guys are going at top speed it's hard to steady yourself and get your body in a good position."
While the shoulder charge was the talking point of the night, it was hard to ignore the ruthlessness and dominance of the Storm – who now wait for the winner of Saturday night's Roosters-Rabbitohs preliminary final at Allianz Stadium.
A Roosters victory would set up a mouth-watering showdown between Cooper Cronk and his former club.
The injury-ravaged Sharks - who were without Australian internationals Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Josh Dugan - were never in the contest.
Poor ball security and discipline gifted the Storm an early2-0lead, before Felise Kaufusi split Matt Moylan and Ricky Leutele to combine with Slater and Brodie Croft for the first try of the night in front of a crowd of 26,621 at AAMI Park.
Slater shrugs off shoulder charge concerns
Having played a hand in the first try, Slater then added his name to the try scorer's list when he got around Moylan to take the Storm out to a 14-0 lead.
Then on the stroke of half-time the Sharks paid the price for a brain explosion from one of their most senior players, Luke Lewis, whose incredible career came to an end in the most disappointing fashion.
With Andrew Fifita and Kenny Bromwich engaged in some push and shove in back-play, Lewis walked away from his position at marker to join the scuffle.
It was an invitation Smith took up and capitalised on the open space to put a grubber in for Slater to grab try No.2 on the stroke of half time for an unassailable 20-0 Storm lead.
The Sharks were given a brief chance to get themselves back into the contest, however the bunker intervened to rule a knock on against Edrick Lee in the lead-up to Jesse Ramien crossing the line.
From that point the Storm never gave their bitter rivals a sniff, grinding their way to the club's eighth grand final appearance in 13 years.
Lewis grabbed a late try in his 324th and final game in the NRL, but it was far from the night the veteran would have been hoping for.
And he's adamant the Storm's retiring legend Slater should at least get a crack at a better farewell than his own and should not miss the grand final because of the Feki tackle.
"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.
"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game. He had to stop the try.
"He put his body on the line. If someone was to miss a game for something so simple as that, I don't know what our game is coming to. It's a contact sport.
"I don't think there was anything in it to be honest.
"If there's anyone I'd like to see out there grand final day it's Billy Slater. Hopefully nothing comes of it."
Players to miss a grand final through suspension
1969 — Arthur Beetson (Balmain)
1978 — Greg Pierce (Sharks)
1978 — Dane Sorensen (Sharks)
1981 — Steve Bowden (Newtown)
1988 — Steve Roach (Balmain)
1994 — John Lomax (Raiders)
1997 — Jim Serdaris (Sea Eagles)
1998 — Peter Ryan (Broncos)
2004 — Luke Ricketson (Roosters)
2005 — Carl Webb (Cowboys)
2008 — Cameron Smith (Storm)
2014 – Issac Luke (Rabbitohs)
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