Miracle in NRL finals madness
Live NRL Finals: Melbourne has beaten South Sydney 29-28 in the best game of the 2018 season.
THE Storm and South Sydney have delivered the best game of 2018 in a rollercoaster thriller that came down to an ugly Cameron Munster drop-goal.
A 77th-minute Munster kick has fired Melbourne to a thrilling 29-28 win that has them just 80 minutes away from another grand final.
In a dramatic start to this year's final series, the Rabbitohs appeared to have clinched a preliminary final when Cameron Murray controversially stormed over with nine minutes to go.
But Munster set up a line break for Billy Slater and then stepped up to nail a 31-metre field goal to send a raucous crowd of 17,306 at AAMI Park into raptures.
"That is one of the best games I have ever seen," Channel 9's Paul Vautin said.
"This has set an incredible benchmark for the rest of this final series."
The Rabbitohs now wait on the winner of Sunday's elimination final between Brisbane and St George Illawarra to keep their season alive next week.
Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold admitted his team has to get better.
"We were really good in patches," Seibold said.
"They showed us in the key moments how to play finals footy.
"They punished us for every error or every penalty that we gave. They put us under pressure with it.
"We'll learn from that. I'm really proud of the games effort. We came here to get a result.
"When you score 28 points you expect to win a game of footy. We didn't. that's why we need to be better."
The Storm had to come from behind five times in an absorbing contest, and also had to overcome a number of controversial refereeing decisions, to claim the win.
Scores were locked at 18-all midway through the second half when Curtis Scott was penalised for a second effort in a tackle that led to Robert Jennings crossing not long after.
A Cheyse Blair try levelled the game again, only for a sideline official to rule a Josh Addo-Carr forward pass that led to Murray's go-ahead four-pointer.
But Munster's late game heroics ensured the Storm remain on track to become the first team to defend their crowd in a unified competition since Brisbane in 1992-93.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said he was immensely proud of his team's fight.
"I am just so proud of our boys for hanging in there," he said.
"There were a couple of areas they really dominated us, but I couldn't be prouder of our effort.
"I thought we were really gutsy. To come back against a great side down six points with seven minutes to go, that was a great effort."
Blair and Suliasi Vunivalu both finished with doubles, while Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis did his best to inspire his side to also nab a double. It was an explosive start to the qualifying final, with the hosts forcing an error in their first defensive set that almost ended in an opening try for Slater.
But the retiring fullback grounded a grubber on the dead-ball line, to which the Rabbitohs responded through an aerial raid for Dane Gagai to post first points. The ferocious collisions kept on coming with Sam Burgess jolting the ball free on an early play, while Inglis also had the wind knocked out of him by Vunivalu not long after.
Poor defensive reads by the Rabbitohs, sandwiched by a stadium-shaking Kaufusi shot on Sam Burgess, ended in back-to-back Storm tries to Scott and Vunivalu and their first lead.
The visitors regained the lead on a bizarre 37th-minute Inglis try, where Vunivalu gave up on the play as he appealed for an offload from the ground from Jennings.
But Storm halfback Brodie Croft - a last-minute inclusion for Jahrome Hughes - broke the game open with a 70-metre line-break and grubber for Vunivalu on the stroke of halftime.
And it appeared the Storm were on their way when George Burgess was sin-binned for a professional foul that resulted in Cameron Smith kicking the Storm to a six-point lead.
However the Rabbitohs rebounded with back-to-back tries, only for the Storm to once again prove their big-game quality with another strong finish. Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds came off with a shoulder injury moments before the break but took the field upon resumption with what was described as a shoulder sprain.
Munster's field goal came after the Storm had trailed by six with just eight minutes remaining.
Captain Cameron Smith blew up at a referee decision which saw the Storm penalised for a controversial forward pass late in the game.
The Rabbitohs were able to take the lead three tackles later in the moment that many believed would decide the contest.
But there were a series of dramatic twists and turns left in the incredible contest.
The Storm struck back two sets later when Cheyse Blair scored his second try.
It left the game tied at 28-28 with four minutes left.
That's when Munster stood-up and slotted the most important kick of his NRL career.
- with AAP
Smith fumes over 'Absolute howler'
Cameron Murray put South Sydney in front 28-22 with seven minutes to play after Josh Addo-Carr was controversially pinged for a questionable forward pass when bringing the ball out of his own end.
Addo-Carr's pass to Billy Slater was ruled forward, despite the whistle-blowers being in the wrong position.
When Souths scored a few tackles later, Smith stormed straight at the referee to complain.
"It's an absolute howler," he said repeatedly.
The referees had to warn Smith to calm down and said: "be careful what you say".
I sincerely hope the talking point out of this match isn’t the refs. Been best game of footy in years #NRLStormSouths— Steve Zemek (@stevezemek) September 7, 2018
In yet another game-changing moment, the Storm tied the game up again in the sixth lead change of the night when Blair crossed for his second try with just five minutes to play.
Blair was able to run onto a sweet kick from winger Josh Addo-Carr.
Burgess sent to the bin
Earlier in the second half, George Burgess was dramatically sent to the sin-bin in the 45th minute for dragging down Dale Finucane as he chased through a Cameron Smith grubber into the in-goal.
Burgess appeared to stand his ground as Finucane stepped around him, but the Souths prop then made a clumsy attempt to grab Finucane's arm as the Storm forward went past.
An angry Burgess pleaded for the referee to have another look on the video replay, but was given his marching orders immediately.
Storm 'grubs' under fire
NRL commentators blew up after Greg Inglis' painful scream towards the referees fell of deaf ears in the opening exchanges.
Inglis stayed down on the ground clutching his shoulder after two Storm players appeared to move him into a "chicken wing" position during a tackle where his right arm was driven into the turf.
NRL commentators labelled the tactic "dangerous".
"If you come down with the arm in a fashion, that's how you do damage," NRL legend Peter Sterling told Nine.
"That's how Gareth Widdop injured his shoulder three weeks ago."
The dirty tricks didn't all come from the Storm.
Cameron Smith appeared to be accidentally eye-gouged by George Burgess just a few minutes later.
When the dust settled, it was thr Storm that were eventually able to strike first when the Rabbitohs' left-edge defense fell apast and Curtis Scott was able to stroll over with a two-man overlap.
Cameron Smith converted the try to tie the game at 6-6 in the 24th minute.
The Storm made it back-to-back tries in the 32nd minute when Billy Slater danced his way through Greg Inglis and floated a perfect pass to Suliasi Vunivalu.
Inglis darted out of the defensive line only for Slater to step inside before floating a cut-out ball to Vunivalu on the wing.
The Storm were able to capitalise on the field position created by Felise Kaufusi's rattling tackle on Sam Burgess when won the ball back for Melbourne just 20m out.
South Sydney, however, had the next say when Greg Inglis scored in the 38th minute in controversial circumstances.
Winger Robert Jennings was dragged down by Billy Slater near the corner post, but was able to dish off a one-handed off-load to Inglis as he hit the deck.
Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu screamed for the referees to award a penalty for passing after the tackle had been completed.
Play was allowed to go on and Inglis barged over from short distance as Vunivalu was trying to yell at the referees.
The Storm then had the final say for the extraordinary half of football when Vunivalu got to make up for his mistake by finishing off a brilliant dart from Brodie Croft.
Croft split the Bunnies' line 70m from his try line before grubbering down-field in open play. Vunivalu won the footrace to the Steeden before soaring over the try-line with an over-the-top dive.
Vunivalu's try had the Storm back in front 16-12 at half time.
Storm make huge late change
Melbourne has sprung too last-minute surprises with Brodie Croft named to start at halfback. The move has seen Jahrome Hughes drop out of the side completely.
The Storm have also re-called forward Sam Kasiano, who has replaced Tui Kamikamica on the bench. Billy Slater is also a confirmed starter at fullback.
The Rabbitohs are 1-17.
Storm: 1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Cheyse Blair 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 19. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Tim Glasby 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14. Brandon Smith 15. Christian Welch 17. Kenneath Bromwich 20. Sam Kasiano
Rabbitohs: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Campbell Graham 3. Greg Inglis 4. Dane Gagai 5. Robert Jennings 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. George Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess. Interchange: 14. Hymel Hunt 15. Cameron Murray 16. Jason Clark 17. Dean Britt