By STEVE MASCORD
NRL finals will come to Melbourne next weekend after two controversial disallowed Storm tries helped South Sydney to victory on the opening night of the play-offs at ANZ Stadium.
The Storm’s 20-10 loss means they will play Canterbury or Newcastle at AAMI Park on Friday or Saturday to keep their premiership defence alive. Would-be tries to winger Sisa Waqa (32nd minute) and fullback Billy Slater (64th) cost the world champions dearly and will be pondered for days.
It was Souths’ first win over Melbourne in Sydney since 2004 and the first anywhere since 2010. The bunnies had previously won just three of their most recent 22 games against the Storm.
Michael Maguire’s men – now just 80 minutes from a grand final – led 14-0 at halftime.
Cooper Cronk bombed to the south-eastern corner and Waqa flew high to reclaim the ball, referee Shayne Hayne referring the matter upstairs but making an on-field adjudication of “no try”.
In flashing the red light video referee Bernard Sutton said there was “insufficient evidence” to overturn Hayne’s call. There would have been insufficient evidence to over-rule a “try” ruling from Hayne as well.
Earlier, Storm winger Justin O’Neill had spilt possession on his own 20 metre line, with Adam Reynolds; pass putting winger Dylan Walker over in the north-eastern corner.
Reynolds goaled for 6-0, added a 22nd-minute penalty goal and then another Storm error at the back allowed the bunnies to add to their total. Prop Jeff Lima launched himself at the line, just to the left of the posts, for a 26th minute try which Reynolds converted.
South Sydney prop Roy Asotasi was somewhat harshly reported for a crusher tackle on Jason Ryles in the 29th minute. The penalty laid the platform for the raid which Waqa looked to have converted to points, but only after Greg Inglis smashed O’Neill when he looked certain to score on the other side of the field.
As the halftime siren neared, Souths captain John Sutton missed with a field goal attempt. The Storm were handed a penalty after the bell and captain Cameron Smith missed with a difficult, long range goal attempt.
The second half was 14 minutes old before the scoreboard attendants were bothered for the first time. From a scrum win, fullback Billy Slater sliced through, although video officials Sutton and Luke Phillips were called upon to rule on whether defender Greg Inglis had been illegally obstructed.
The decision – after multiple replays – was that he had not. Hooker Smith added the extras but at5 14-6 the Rabbits still appeared in control.
There were chances which Souths frittered; Chris McQueen knocked on, Adam Reynolds passed too early.
But the real turning point of the second half came when Slater looked to have scored his second try, from a Cronk kick, in the north-eastern corner. Defender Nathan Merritt had knocked the ball into his own head before it richoceted onto the ground and was claimed, one handed, by Slater.
The on-field officials said it was a try. The video referees disagreed.
Phillips and Sutton said Storm centre Will Chambers had illegally interfered with Merritt as he attempted to take the bomb. The try was disallowed.
Within five minutes, South Sydney had extended its lead. Fullback Inglis charged onto the ball 10 metres out, running in an arc, before he found hooker Issac Luke arrowing at the tryline.
The try was awarded without the men upstairs being consulted. Reynolds goaled for 20-6.
There was a spectacular incident with nine minutes left, Waqa chasing a kick and cartwheeling when his leg came into contact with opposite number Dylan Farrell. Despite the incident appearing an accident, and the rules allowing for defenders to tackle those attacking the line in the air, Farrell was placed on report.
Centre Will Chambers’ try off Cronk’s pass, after Waqa was carted off on a medicab, narrowed the margin once more to 10 points.
Before kickoff, a sternum/shoulder injury prevented Brett Finch playing for Melbourne. Gareth Widdop, in his first NRL game back from a dislocated hip, appeared tentative at times.
SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (D Farrell J Lima I Luke tries A Reynolds 4 goals) bt MELBOURNE 10 (B Slater W Chambers tries; C Smith goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: S Hayne/J Maxwell. Crowd: 21,609
Filed for: THE AGE