The Melbourne Storm have booked their place in yet another preliminary final with a 36-24 win over Parramatta in a see-sawing qualifying final in Brisbane.
However, the win came at a cost for Melbourne, with star five-eighth Cameron Munster going off the field late with a knee injury that threatens to end his finals campaign.
Munster wasn’t the only high-profile casualty of the night, Eels wingers Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson both suffering early ends to their matches.
Both Sivo and the Storm five-eighth are suspected to have sustained MCL injuries. Munster has already had the same injury twice already this season, and his place in the preliminary final is in serious doubt.
Sivo will most likely miss the Eels’ semi-final next week, and while the nature of Ferguson’s injury is still unknown, they way he limped off the field bodes poorly indeed for the winger.
The Eels had started the match the stronger side. Nathan Brown scored in the very first minute of the game, and captain Clint Gutherson finished off a superb length-of-the-field team effort to give Parramatta a 12-0 lead with 22 minutes on the clock.
However, the Storm responded like the experienced finals outfit they are, Suliasi Vunivalu and Ryan Pepenhuyzen crossing before halftime to send the sides into the sheds all square.
Opposing wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Ferguson exchanged tries in the first ten minutes of the second half, but with the score at 18-all the Storm piled on three in quick succession to take the game away. First it was Jesse Bromwich crashing through the Eels’ left-side defence, then Brenko Lee did the same before Papenhuyzen grabbed his second to push the lead out to 18 points.
Shaun Lane scored soon after to set up a nervy finish, particularly after Munster went off late in the game, but ultimately the Eels were unable to close the margin, Melbourne finishing 36-24 winners.
The Storm will now host the second preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium, while Parramatta head back to Bankwest Stadium for a sudden-death semi-final against either the Rabbitohs or Knights.