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Jahrome Hughes is closing in on back-to-back titles in as many attempts as an NRL halfback, but only after fearing he had cost his Storm teammates a grand final triumph.

Hughes has been a revelation since being permanently shifted to the scrumbase by Craig Bellamy two years ago, his 34 try-assists in that time ranking only behind Daly Cherry-Evans (47) and Nathan Cleary (37) among No.7s.

The Kiwi star has been an integral part of Melbourne's bid for consecutive titles but last year's triumph nearly didn't eventuate after his cynical professional foul on Penrith's Viliame Kikau late in the decider when the Storm were coasting with a 26-12 lead.

Hughes spent the next 10 minutes enduring "one of the worst times of my life" on his lonesome in the bowels of Stadium Australia as the Panthers mounted the unlikeliest of grand final comebacks.

When teammate Brandon Smith joined Hughes in the final minute - dawdling to the sin bin, prompting a shove off the field by Josh Mansour - Penrith had reduced the gap to six points and had four seconds left from the final restart to level the scores against an 11-man defensive line.

Craig Bellamy catches up with Jahrome Hughes after the siren.
Craig Bellamy catches up with Jahrome Hughes after the siren. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Coach Craig Bellamy famously booted a chair into next week when Cleary's superb individual try set up a grandstand finish, while Hughes was left kicking himself on the sidelines.

"Honestly, it was one of the worst times of my life I think and best times as well," Hughes laughed when reminded of his sin bin stint heading into Saturday's grand final qualifier against the Panthers once more.

"I went in [to the dressing sheds] confident with that scoreline.

"Then a couple of minutes in I started stressing and I was in there by myself and I didn't know what to do.

Sublime skill from Hughes as he creates a hat-trick for Papenhuyzen

"I thought I'd lost my team a grand final.

"I think someone checked on me but I was in there by myself but that was probably better.

"If there was someone else in there with me I don't know what I would've done, probably taken my anger out on them.

"I started walking out when they let me out of the sheds and then Cheese got binned then so we're both standing on the sideline.

"When Nath scored that last try with a couple of seconds to go, the emotions were flowing and I was stressing out.

"I thought I'd lost my team a grand final.

"There was lots of things going on and then finally when Fus [Felise Kaufusi] grabbed the ball in the last seconds to win, it turned into one of the best times of my life."

I thought I'd lost my team a grand final.

Jahrome Hughes

Hughes and Cleary will square off again on Saturday night with the latter dominating headlines all year for a range of reasons - his rich vein of Dally M-worthy performances, coaches feuding over defenders targeting him and how blockers subsequently prevent them.

His Storm counterpart has quietly established himself as one of the game's top halfbacks in the background - his running game in particular is without peer.

Hughes' tally of 27 line breaks in the past two years puts him streets ahead of his fellow halfbacks after Bellamy insisted he needed to keep playing to his strengths when first backing him as Melbourne's long-term halfback in late 2019.

"When Craig put me in that position late in that 2019 season we probably didn't play our best footy then and bowed out in the prelim," Hughes recalled on Sunday.

"There was a lot of outside noise about if it was the right decision, if Craig made the right decision.

Best plays: Finals week two

"[Critics asking] if I'm an NRL halfback got me down a bit. But it also gave me that motivation as well because everyone inside the club wanted me to be there and they trusted me.

"I remember there was an article about Smithy playing [halfback] in 2020 and Craig rang me straight away and told me he wanted to be the halfback that year. That gave me even more motivation.

"That pre-season was the first pre-season I had training at halfback.

"The rest of my pre-seasons I was at fullback so I think that helped a lot, just getting that confidence in myself and knowing the club had confidence in me as well."

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