Broncos 14 Storm 16
A WEEK from hell could not have finished any differently for Brisbane.
Melbourne stuttered and stumbled for 79 minutes and 14 seconds, then delivered a spear to the collective heart of this town and its worshipped players, with Greg Inglis scoring in the corner to seal victory.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has coached the Broncos for the last game, and departs with a sexual-assault investigation hovering over three of his players.
It should not have been this way, but after 21 years his legacy will remain as a favourite mentor and leading figure.
Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer had earlier in the day confessed to being the man who semi-tackled a bar owner during a drunken night out two weeks ago, after denying it on Tuesday night.
A remarkable effort it was for a player to admit to his sin on radio the day of an elimination final.
As he gazed forlornly into the sky with hands on head after Inglis's matchwinner, Lockyer was clearly shattered.
"I've never felt like this, I'm lost for words," Lockyer said.
Just like the Warriors on Friday night, Melbourne stormed home in the second half and with three tries they stole a result that seemed destined to spark a weekend-long celebration on Caxton Street.
Storm prop Jeff Lima was sin-binned for no good reason in the 61st minute when Broncos hooker Michael Ennis stayed on the ground clutching his shoulder after contact.
Ennis was hit from behind after he passed the ball but the collision was minimal and there appeared no intention on Lima's part to inflict hurt.
Grapple-mania erupted three-quarters of the way through the game when Sam Thaiday was caught in a dangerous, stifling wrestling manoeuvre.
The Smiths, Cameron and Jeremy, were the duo involved in what could best be described as a chicken wing and grapple tackle in one, before heated members of both sides raced in to scuffle.
Jeremy Smith pulled Thaiday's arm behind him in a wrestling-style lock, while Cameron Smith appeared to choke-hold the long-haired giant.
Broncos players had complained during the match about other tackles they thought were grapples, and one sensed an explosion was imminent.
As Thaiday rose angrily, punches were thrown and Michael Crocker ran in to contribute - receiving a lecture afterwards from referee Shayne Hayne.
Neither Smith was placed on report, but they should expect a citing from the NRL judiciary and the Kangaroos hooker could face a lengthy spell out of the game.
Inglis was denied the season's most-memorable-try award when video official Bill Harrigan ruled he was offside from a Cameron Smith grubber.
Matt Geyer batted it back to Anthony Quinn, who in turn batted it to Inglis to score.
It would have been the most spectacular rugby league try since the Centenary Test, when Mark Gasnier received a similar pass from Inglis.
The Broncos led 12-0 at the half, a brutal 40 minutes punctuated by Brisbane's penetrative dummy-half running, sweeping back line moves and frustrating dropped balls due to the light rain that had drizzled down from kick-off.
Within four minutes of the start the Broncos had crossed, allowing their ravenous fans to scream out a week's worth of apprehension.
Coincidentally, the three men who created that apprehension, after being listed as persons of interest in a sexual assault investigation, contributed to the fans' relief.
Thaiday made a damaging charge upfield and moments later Karmichael Hunt was passing wide to Darius Boyd, who flew into the corner. Perhaps not all was forgiven, but most certainly forgotten in that moment of hysteria.
Melbourne struggled to perplex Brisbane's firm defensive line, running predictable angles and kicking ineffectively.
They could not manage a line break in the first half.
Billy Slater was inches from opening the Storm's ledger in the 17th minute, but lost his grasp on the ball as he pounced on a Cooper Cronk grubber into the in-goal.
Cronk was then held up in the same spot by Corey Parker and Peter Wallace eight minutes later.
Broncos winger Denan Kemp scored a thrilling try in the 31st, after the ball had been passed from Wallace to Lockyer to Justin Hodges to him. Kemp stepped back infield and passed inside to Lockyer, who spun in a tackle and flicked it back to Kemp, who escaped the clutches of Crocker to touch down.
Part planned, part instinct, wholly breathtaking.
It seemed Melbourne lacked plan and instinct in the opening exchange, summed up when back-rower Ryan Hoffman was caught unaware with the ball on the last tackle with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
A master blast in the sheds by coach Craig Bellamy woke them up, as Crocker scored six minutes after the resumption.
MELBOURNE 16 (M Crocker G Inglis B Slater tries C Smith 2 goals) bt BRISBANE 14 (D Boyd D Kemp tries C Parker 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: S Hayne. Crowd: 50,466.
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