A missile-like field goal from Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster four minutes from the full-time siren sent Melbourne through to the NRL preliminary finals while prolonging South Sydney's pain at AAMI Park.
Munster (knee) was one of the six Melbourne players back from injury this week after missing the loss to the Panthers in round 25. But the Test half showed no signs of pain as he fired his shot from 35 metres out off his left boot.
The ball never looked destined for any other target than straight through the uprights. That set off the fans as they chanted 'Melbourne! Melbourne!' for the remainder of the match.
Souths have not won in Melbourne in 15 matches. But this one will have hurt. It was five tries apiece, but in the wash-up they will now have to back up next weekend and play the winner of Sunday's elimination final between the Broncos and Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.
The closeness of these well-coached sides on Friday night came via the scoreboard – it was 6-6, 18-18 and 22-22 and 28-28 but the lead still changed five times during the match.
It was finals football at its physical best.
Match: Storm v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: AAMI Park
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
Souths halfback Adam Reynolds received a penalty for being tackled in the air by Josh Addo-Carr.
During the next set Reynolds was flattened again by second rower Felise Kaufusi.
With 40 seconds left on the clock before the break, Christian Welch also collected Reynolds. He signalled to the bench as he gripped his left right shoulder.
Few expected the plucky No.7 to return for the second half, but he did to receive even more roughing up from the Melbourne forwards.
Kaufusi was definitely in a mood – he put on two big hits earlier in the half on Sam Burgess, dislodging the ball from his grasp both times. Welch also got into the act in the second half as Burgess continued to carry a target on his chest.
Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu had a running argument all night with Cody Walker but buried his shoulder into Greg Inglis' left rib cage in the 22nd minute, which left the Rabbitohs skipper curled up on the ground in pain.
It was a tit-for-tat opening 40 minutes with five tries in total before the home side took a 16-12 lead into the sheds.
Melbourne didn't take the lead until the 31st minute when Billy Slater sent a netball-like pass to Vunivalu to score his side's second try for a 10-8 lead.
Poking their heads out in front didn't last long, as Souths winger Robert Jennings managed to off-load close to the ground for Greg Inglis to score five minutes later.
But Storm wasn't done yet. Halfback Brodie Croft broke out of the tackle by Sam Burgess and Alex Johnston to kick ahead for Vunivalu to score his second – with a spectacular swan dive – in the shadow of the halftime siren.
All three of Storm's tries – the brace to Vunivalu and one to centre Curtis Scott – came at the expense of South Sydney's left edge defence.
The Rabbitohs survived being down to 12 men, after George Burgess was sin-binned (45th), to level scores 18-18 through Inglis's second try. He collected a Reynolds bomb, beating two defenders, and then ran right over the top of his Queensland and Australian teammate Slater.
Melbourne centre Curtis Scott received a dubious penalty for dragging Cody Walker into touch. The next set for the Rabbitohs and Robert Jennings went over in the left corner (62nd minute).
Storm replied four minutes later through centre Cheyse Blair (66th) and the AAMI Park crowd remained on the edge of their seats. Blair's second within eight minutes would have given hope to Craig Bellamy that his men might earn themselves a week's rest.
The Munster field goal – his second for the year – confirmed it.
News & Notes: Storm prop Jesse Bromwich played his 200th NRL game... Craig Bellamy was coaching his 36th finals game for Storm since 2003....George Burgess was sin-binned in the 45th minute....Storm have now won 12 of their past 14 games against South Sydney....Crowd: 17,306.