Roosters coach Trent Robinson described his side as “heartbroken” and he believed that after a rollercoaster season, his young side was finding its best form.
“I feel like we fought really hard to continue on, you believe you will keep going right through until right at the end there,” Robinson said.
“It’s devastating to finish as we felt like we found our team the longer this season went. We’ve been fighting for a couple of years and held onto a really good spirit, but I felt like we found our heart the longer the season went.
“I’m really proud but it is disappointing to finish in week two [of finals].”
Melbourne looked in trouble after defending for much of the second half, while being without injured halfback Jahrome Hughes, whose absence was noticeable in the second half despite some excellent efforts from stand-in Tyran Wishart.
Bellamy said Hughes could potentially play next week but was not a certain starter, while it was unlikely winger Xavier Coates would recover from an ankle injury.
Storm forward Tui Kamikamica needed a concussion assessment late in the game and Trent Loiero rolled his ankle in the second half, the Fijian forward was sighted walking around the treatment room post-game.
With two minutes to go, Storm star Harry Grant looked to have been hit in the head but no penalty was called, but Cameron Munster kept his cool, sending a high ball to the right wing, allowing Warbrick to fly high and pull the ball from the grasp of Roosters winger Junior Pauga, reaching out and scoring the try before giving a thumbs up to the fans on the sideline.
Bellamy again went with his “nightwatchman” Bronson Garlick starting as hooker for the opening 20 minutes before star playmaker Harry Grant was injected into the game.
Luke Keary made a silly decision to bump Wishart over as he tried to play the ball early in the first half.
That penalty gave the Storm a full set close to the try line and Wishart took full advantage, running towards the line and then throwing a dummy pass outside, which froze teammate Brandon Smith and the Roosters defence, opening a gap for the stand-in halfback to score the opening try on seven minutes.
Wishart, the son of long-time Illawarra Steelers and St George Illawarra winger Rod, made the most of his moment, leaping high as he crossed the line to score.
Reimis Smith almost had a try of his own a few minutes later when he touched down a Munster high kick, but he fumbled his original attempt to catch the ball and it was called a knock on.
A high tackle from the Roosters provided another penalty for the Storm on 17 minutes and Nick Meaney took the chance to kick the goal and take the lead to 6-0.
Grant was right into the play and was lucky to avoid a knock on deep near his try line after spilling a high ball, he managed to regain it on the bounce and referee Ashley Klein didn’t call a knock-on, much to the fury of Robinson.
“It was pretty clear it was dropped. He was right there, it hit the ground. What can you do?” Robinson lamented.
“It was an error and they went down the other end and scored, but we should have stopped that. But [if called] it would have been a try scoring opportunity for us, 10 metres from the line and in finals those opportunities are critical.”
That decision proved pivotal as, on that play, aided again by a Roosters penalty, the Storm went the length of the field and scored with Eliesa Katoa off-loading to Wishart, who passed the ball wide to Grant who lured in the defender and fed Marion Seve who scored the try for a 10-0 lead.
The Roosters weren’t deterred and kept attacking the Storm, who gave away repeat penalties and were eventually punished with Brandon Smith barging over for his third try of the season, which Sam Walker converted to make it 10-6 to the home side.
Storm captain Christian Welch had the home crowd screaming early in the second half when he intercepted a Roosters ball and took off down the field, running almost 50 metres before he was caught.
On the hour-mark, the AAMI Park scoreboard camera panned to injured star Ryan Papenhuyzen with his surgically repaired ankle heavily bandaged and resting on the top of the seat in front of him – he responded to a loud applause with a smile and thumbs up.
Munster looked to have made a game-saving tackle on 68 minutes when he dragged down Victor Radley close to the line, but Sandon Smith played it quickly from dummy-half throwing a long pass to Lindsay Collins, who powered over to score and tie scores at 12-12.
The Storm will face the Penrith Panthers at Accor Stadium in Sydney on Friday at 7.50pm.
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