John Bateman stunned Melbourne Storm with a decisive late try as Canberra Raiders reached the NRL preliminary finals with a dramatic 12-10 win, while Manly Sea Eagles eliminated Cronulla Sharks.
The Raiders were rocked when centre Joseph Leilua was struck in the left eye by a particle from a firework – let off as part of the pre-match entertainment – as he ran onto the pitch.
Bailey Simonsson, Leilua’s last-minute replacement, grasped his unexpected opportunity by putting the Raiders in front with a third-minute try in the corner at AAMI Park on Saturday.
Jarrod Croker added the extras and a penalty from Cameron Smith on the stroke of half-time was all the minor premiers could muster after Leilua was cleared to enter the fray, replacing Nick Cotric when he took a boot to the face.
The Storm were level early in the second half when Suliasi Vunivalu touched down after rising above Simonsson to grab a kick from Jahrome Hughes and Smith’s second penalty put them in front.
Smith slotted over from the tee again three minutes later and Jordan Rapana – who had a try disallowed during a first half in which Croker missed two penalties – was put on report for a lifting tackle on Cameron Munster.
Craig Bellamy’s men looked set to see it out but there was a late twist as Josh Addo-Carr spilled the ball and Leilua scooped it up before setting up Bateman, who crossed after taking a clever pass and Croker converted.
— NRL (@NRL) September 14, 2019
The Storm were furious when Vunivalu was wrongly adjudged to have stepped on the touchline with time running out and looked shell-shocked as Canberra celebrated setting up a preliminary final at GIO Stadium.
Melbourne will face either Parramatta Eels or Brisbane Broncos in a knockout clash next weekend, while Manly will lock horns with South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday after a 28-16 defeat of Cronulla.
Manly were without a host of key men but stayed alive and ended Sharks captain Paul Gallen’s illustrious career as Apisai Koroisau, Moses Suli, Brad Parker, Addin Fonua-Blake and Brendan Elliot all crossed.