NRL finals have started early with the Sydney Roosters locking up their top-eight spot after holding on for a 18-14 win over Melbourne in a fiery and drama-filled classic at AAMI Park.
The wounded Roosters spoiled the regular-season Melbourne farewell for Storm stalwarts Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith on Friday night to secure their seventh straight win.
It was an explosive encounter in front of 25,308 fans as the Roosters ensured they would play in the finals for the sixth straight season.
Trent Robinson’s team silenced the parochial Melbourne crowd after charging out to a 14-0 lead after 20 minutes.
But when Nick Meaney scored in the 65th minute it gave the Storm faithful hope they could lock up a top-four spot before an away showdown with Parramatta in the final round next week.
Melbourne made several late bursts as they tried to pinch the lead for the first time in the game but the Roosters bravely defended their line, including a game-saving effort from superstar James Tedesco, to score a famous win.
Kenny Bromwich looked destined to cross for the Storm’s third try, but Tedesco was able to put his body between the ball and the line.
“It’s not always pretty but you’ve got to be desperate and you have to come up with try savers to win big games and none more critical than that,” Robinson said.
“We had to play in a different way tonight but proud of the way the guys went about it.”
However, the Roosters’ first victory over the Storm since 2019 came at a cost as they leave Victoria with several concerns.
Star Roosters forward Victor Radley was knocked out and taken off on a stretcher after running into the hip of Storm captain Jesse Bromwich with 10 minutes remaining.
It is a major concern because it was Radley’s second concussion of the season after he suffered a big hit in round one.
Lindsay Collins, in his first game back from concussion, was placed on report for an incident with the Storm’s Tom Eisenhuth in the dying minutes.
Roosters winger Daniel Tupou opened the scoring with a try in the left corner, but his joy was short-lived.
Tupou left the field less than 10 minutes later with a groin injury, casting doubt on his availability for the finals.
The 31-year-old has a history of groin issues and Robinson admitted the injury was a major concern for the Roosters.
The game was fiery from the start and heated up further when Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Storm forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Melbourne finally took advantage just before Waerea-Hargreaves returned to the field, with young flyer Xavier Coates crossing in the corner eight minutes before halftime.
A dramatic night took another turn when Storm coach Craig Bellamy fell ill with a migraine and was replaced in the post-game press conference by senior assistant Stephen Kearney.
“The Roosters got away to a really good start and we didn’t help ourselves there,” Kearney said.
“We had our opportunities, we probably weren’t quite good enough and I thought the Roosters did a really good job.”
The Storm will head to CommBank Stadium on Thursday night against the Eels, with the winners securing a top-four spot and the losers going into an elimination final.
Meanwhile, the Roosters will host South Sydney in a blockbuster re-opening of Allianz Stadium on Friday night.