Before the game, Craig Bellamy spoke about the importance of a fast start, but his players went above and beyond delivering a gobsmacking three tries in the opening 10 minutes.
An Elliott Whitehead knock-on as he attempted to kick sacrificed precious Canberra field position, and Jesse Bromwich made them pay the ultimate price, storming through from close range off the back of Jahrome Hughes’ superbly timed pass.
Minutes later, some sharp Storm passing deep in their own half sent Josh Addo-Carr blazing through the backfield with Ryan Papenhuyzen in support, an unstoppable duo that rendered last man Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad a spectator.
Melbourne’s ruthless onslaught showed no signs of slowing down after Semi Valemei fumbled Hughes’ bomb under immense pressure, and Felise Kaufusi was able to keep the ball alive. Hughes retrieved the loose footy and danced his way past Raiders defenders before flicking it out to Suliasi Vunivalu, who managed to feign a kick as he treaded the touchline tightrope, sealing their third try inside 10 minutes with an outrageous run.
Opting against the tap-and-go, Cameron Smith utilised a penalty to make amends for his missed conversion and put the Storm 18-0 up.
Canberra finally received some sort of break when a sliding Addo-Carr was denied by the Bunker, deemed to have not applied downward pressure when he grounded the ball. A somewhat staggering decision, and one the naked eye was oblivious to.
Undeterred, Melbourne continued to hound the Raiders’ rattled defence. Their fourth unanswered try coming to fruition as Justin Olam put on his cape and flew through the in-goal, Nick Cotric having had an air-swing attempting to swat Papenhuyzen’s elusive grubber dead.
LAST WEEK: Sweet Revenge: CNK led Raiders prevail over reigning premiers in nail-biter
Not doing a potential turnaround any favours, Nicoll-Klokstad was forced from the field for a HIA, with Jordan Rapana making the short-term switch to fullback.
Corey Harawira-Naera threatened, before usual perpetrator George Williams placed his chip on a dime, and Cotric soared over Addo-Carr in the right corner for Canberra’s first points, planting the seeds of a potential comeback.
The Raiders came close again before the half’s conclusion. Siliva Havili lost the ball as he went to play it close to the line, although replays revealed it was helped out by a Storm head, which went unnoticed. They survived a scare when Valemei faltered under the high ball again, this time unable to get a hand to it, but the 24-6 scoreline remained intact at the half.
Canberra made their second half intentions clear from the kick-off, starting with a bang as they dragged Dale Finucane 15 metres to the in-goal. That play appeared to be the catalyst for a Canberra comeback, but instead sparked the Storm.
The Raiders wasted their field position, as they so often did, and Melbourne retaliated by driving Nicoll-Klokstad 10 metres to his own in-goal.
Addo-Carr laid a huge try-saving tackle on Rapana soon after. Fired up was an understatement.
Having proved impenetrable and withstanding Canberra’s push, Melbourne could taste a grand final berth, and their milestone man put them one step closer. Hughes’ chip was batted back by Vunivalu and the Steeden skipped into the lap of Dale Finucane, who bee-lined for Nicoll-Klokstad and bounced off him, scoring a try to celebrate his 200th game.
A frantic play and absurd bounce had Cotric destined to score and breathe life into the contest late, but Cameron Smith thought otherwise, producing an emphatic chase-down tackle to pull Cotric short.
Super Smith's incredible stop
It was too little too late, but a pinpoint Rapana flick allowed Cotric to cross the line for his double in the 71st minute, with Canberra trailing by 20.
The scoreline wound up 30-10. The crushing Melbourne victory an imminent warning for next week’s grand final opponent.
Whilst John Bateman was unable to end his Raiders career in style, Cameron Smith hinted at retirement, and his final game at Suncorp Stadium. Subbed off with five minutes remaining, he left the field from the far side and embarked on a half-lap of honour, before being chaired off to a guard of honour and Gatorade shower after the game.
Despite the warranted speculation, Smith and Bellamy refused to look past next week’s grand final in their post-match press conference.