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Melbourne Storm have celebrated a milestone moment for captain Cameron Smith with a hard-fought 18-16 win over Parramatta at AAMI Park this afternoon, in turn booking themselves a home preliminary final in a fortnight's time.
After a torrid first half which saw Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster sin-binned and Parramatta wrestle the momentum in their favour, the Eels were on track to pick up an upset win over the minor premiers, up 10-4 at the break - then Melbourne cut loose.
The 22,000-strong crowd there to celebrate Smith's 356th game - an NRL record for matches played by a single player and club - got a positive start when Josh Addo-Carr scored a dubious try after a Curtis Scott pass in the left corner. Post match, Parramatta coach Brad Arthur was scathing of the officials for not applying closer scrutiny to that decision, but regardless, it gave the Storm a 4-0 lead after just five minutes.
Melbourne held firm til the 23rd minute when the game was tipped on its head. Cameron Munster was issued a 10 minute sin bin for stopping a Parramatta quick tap and from the ensuing penalty the Eels levelled proceedings through Kirisome Auva'a.
Before Munster returned Will Smith jigged his way to the line off a well-timed Mitch Moses pass and the visitors took a six point lead to the break following Moses' conversion.
Whatever coach Craig Bellamy said to his charges at halftime obviously worked, with the home team coming out in force after the break. Kenny Bromwich scored off the end of a string of passes in a very entertaining (if not messy) team try at the 46th minute before Billy Slater grabbed hold of an Addo-Carr chip kick to put his side in front.
A penalty to the man of the moment Cam Smith then put the Storm up by eight and would ultimately prove a match winner, Parramatta hitting back through Semi Radradra in the 66th minute. Moses' conversion reduced the margin to two but try as they might the Eels couldn't bridge that last little gap.
Melbourne have a preliminary final booked now against one of three clubs - Brisbane, Manly or Penrith - in a fortnight's time at AAMI Park; Parramatta head back to Sydney and will play the winner of tomorrow's Sharks-Cowboys clash next weekend.
Melbourne Storm 18 - Parramatta Eels 16
Venue: AAMI Park
Halftime Score: Melbourne Storm 4 Parramatta Eels 10
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Cameron Smith
2 points - Will Smith
1 points - Cooper Cronk
MELBOURNE STORM (18)
Tries: Josh Addo-Carr, Kenneath Bromwich, Billy Slater
Conversions: Cameron Smith (2/3)
Penalty Goals: Cameron Smith (1/1)
PARRAMATTA EELS (16)
Tries: Kirisome Auva'a, Will Smith, Semi Radradra
Conversions: Mitchell Moses (2/3)