The Roosters held off a valiant comeback to beat the Storm 18-14 and book a place in the final, with James Tedesco producing an epic tackle with the game on the line.
Tedesco was at his best with some clutch play on the stretch, while the duel between Jahrome Hughes and Luke Keary was worth the price of admission alone.
“Finals came early,” Dan Ginnane said on Fox League after the game.
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Sam Walker gave the Roosters a 2-0 early lead on the back of a Storm penalty for a strip after a David Nofoaluma fumble.
The Storm were denied a try against Justin Olam after a controversial takedown only for the Roosters to march to the other side and Keary to put Daniel Tupou down for the first try of the night.
However, moments later, Tupou left injured.
Keary then produced a brilliant cross kick for Joey Manu to score in the corner as the Roosters took a decisive lead.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was sent to the trash after both sides were cautioned for repeated scrums.
“It’s a line in the sand,” referee Adam Gee said before sending off the Roosters enforcer for 10 minutes after appearing to face rake Nelson Asofa-Solomona on the next tackle.
The Storm took advantage of their one-man advantage with Xavier Coates scoring in the corner just before Waerea-Hargreaves returned to the pitch.
A penalty just at halftime gave Nick Meaney the chance to cut the deficit to 14-8 in a frantic end to the first half.
Joseph Suaalii produced a tough finish to crush Coates and extend the Roosters lead into the second half.
Kenny Bromwich produced a brilliant film to get Meaney to set up a grandstand finish.
Tedesco and Nat Butcher combined for a try-saver on Bromwich to kill the comeback just-at-the-death, before Tedesco offered another try-saver moments later to seal a momentous victory.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
TEDESCO STUNS WITH MASTERCLASS TRY-SAVING
James Tedesco is one of the best players in the game, but it was his defense more than his offense for once that won the game for the Roosters.
Tedesco came up with a few clutch defensive plays to almost single-handedly stave off the Storm a comeback win for the ages.
The Roosters led 14-0 before holding on to an 18-14 win in a stunning football game and Tedesco had his fingerprints all over the place by the end of the game.
“It’s sponsored by Duracell,” Gorden Tallis said.
“He has the batteries in him. He is the energizing bunny.
“There’s not a room he won’t go to. He’s just one of those players.
“Johnny Lang told me that great players leave just in case they are needed, not because they are needed.
“Tedesco is one of those guys, it doesn’t matter where the ball is, he’s around him. He shows up for everything.
Corey Parker praised Tedesco for his brilliant anticipation by showing up when the game was on the line to freeze the win with his heads held high defense.
“Tedesco’s big plays were on defense,” Parker said.
“He only had 10 points, which is way below his usual. But these are not statistics for James Tedesco. It’s about getting involved at the right time in crucial moments.
“The stop on Xavier Coates and the stop on Bromwich.
“He was a try saver in the final moments of the game. He’s a dead try saver every day of the week.
“Then moments later, after Suaalii’s mistake, he offers another trial saver.
“His anticipation is incredible. The way he is able to anticipate what will happen next is frightening.
KEARY BACK TO HIS BEST IN STUNNING DISPLAY
The Roosters’ seven-game winning streak to secure a place in the Finals with a week to go has coincided with Luke Keary’s return to his best.
Keary was at the peak of his powers against the Storm in a stunning duel with Jahrome Hughes who was brilliant on a beaten team.
“He’s just a general,” Tallis said of Keary.
“Most of the pieces go to him. He has this racing game.
“You would think Melbourne would have been training all week to shut him down, but he is the benchmark.
“He is the link with Tedesco nine times out of 10. He recovered his late pass.
“I think he got his confidence back. That kick in the first half for a try. He gets his running game back. He gets everything back.”
Parker believes Keary put in his best performance of his season and provides the perfect link to superstar Tedesco.
“I thought his running game in the first 20 minutes was right there with one of the best 20 minutes he’s played all year,” Parker said.
“You have to understand the context of the game and the quality of the game and where these two teams are.
“Melbourne in the top four and the Roosters trying to target that top four position.
“In the first 20 minutes he got a few assists and really set the tone. His kicking game was on point.
“His passing game was electric. He goes right after the defensive line and dismantles it.
“He had a great game.”
HUGHES SHINES IN BEATEN SIDE AS STREET ROOSTERS COST OF VICTORY
Jahrome Hughes deserved to be on the winning side, such was his contribution to AMMI Park and he almost wanted his side to earn a comeback victory.
Parker was impressed with Hughes’ journey from a no-role reserve leveler to one of the NRL’s top half-backs.
“He had nine points, 122 yards rushing, nine tackle jumps, two line jumps, three line jump passes and a try pass,” Parker said.
“If you have just started watching rugby league and have chosen the Storm as your team, you go, Jahrome Hughes what a player.
“But if you’ve watched rugby league and you follow this man’s journey over the years. What an ascent. What an evolution as a player.
“One game for the Cowboys, one for the Titans. He could not find a role at either club. He was the Storm’s fourth running back.
“Now he finds himself on a four-year deal at the Storm as one of the premier halfbacks in the competition.
“Based on pure hard work in his craft, then performed on the big stage. It’s a hell of a player but a great story for everyone that you can just persist and persist and work hard at what your craft is and at the end of the day you can get the job done.
The Roosters will have to count the cost of their win as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was placed on the report twice and Lindsay Collins was placed on the report for a hip drop.
Meanwhile, Victor Radley’s season is in doubt after a sickening head clash saw him stretched off the pitch, while Daniel Tupou was also injured in the first half.