The Melbourne Storm have booked their spot in a second straight grand final with a thumping 30-point win over the Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park in the first NRL preliminary final.
The Storm held the Broncos scoreless for the 80 minutes, their defence holding strong despite having to get through a mountain of work in the first half.
Melbourne were anything but good during the first 40. They made a lot of uncharacteristic errors, placing themselves under pressure countless times.
Billy Slater and wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu were at the top of the blame list, while the kicking game, particularly from skipper Cameron Smith led to four seven-tackle sets for the Broncos.
No matter what they tried though, the Broncos just couldn’t find their way over the line. They botched a few tries, with both Corey Oates and Tautau Moga involved in back-to-back sets during the middle of the first half, but they simply didn’t throw enough at the Storm’s defence.
At times, they looked directionless. Their kicking game was ad-lib at best, and they didn’t throw enough offloads to stretch the purple wall.
Cameron Smith got the scoring underway with a penalty goal, but it looked like the score would be 2-0 at halftime.
That was before the Storm created something from nothing against the run of play. A quick play the ball saw Curtis Scott work left, offload to Josh Addo-Carr after drawing in three defenders and the Fox would race away to score, burning Darius Boyd.
The Storm took an 8-0 lead into the break despite their scrappy performance, but the second half saw a complete form reversal.
Despite dropping the ball with the opening play of the second stanza, they defended their own line again and then ran away with the contest running in three tries in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Broncos had more opportunities, but couldn’t make any of them count. It was the story of the night for the visitors, and with the pace ferocious, the Storm opened them up.
Billy Slater scored the first of those in the 60th minute, running onto an offload from Felise Kaufusi.
It corresponded with Brisbane captain Darius Boyd coming off, and with Nelson Asofa-Solomona barging over six minutes later, and Slater completing a try-scoring double not long after, it was clear the Storm were away with the game.
Another couple of penalty goals in the last ten minutes, including Cameron Smith’s 1000th first-grade goal put the icing on the cake for Melbourne.
The Storm will now face the winner of the second preliminary final, to be played on Saturday night between the Sydney Roosters and North Queensland Cowboys at Allianz Stadium in the grand final, which is on next Sunday evening.