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Defending champion Melbourne closing in on NRL final

September 9, 2018

SYDNEY (AP) — A Cameron Munster dropped goal four minutes from fulltime lifted defending champion Melbourne to a 29-28 win over Souths and within a match of the grand final of Australia’s National Rugby League.

With the game in the balance, Munster launched an ugly dropped goal that wobbled over the crossbar but was enough to give Melbourne a win that sends them straight to the preliminary final in two weeks’ time.

“It was a quick play the ball and I had heaps of time to kick it,” Munster said. “I was just yelling out to (captain Cameron Smith) who hit me, I struck it and was just lucky enough that it went over.”

The see-sawing match, in which Souths were twice disadvantaged by contentious refereeing calls, has been rated one of the best in recent NRL finals series.

“We were really happy with the way it ended up but we were probably lucky to win and they were unlucky to lose,” Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said. “It could have gone either way.”

As second qualifier behind Melbourne, Souths have a second life and will face St. George Illawarra in next weekend’s semifinals with the winner progressing to the preliminary final.

“I think (Melbourne) punished us for every error or penalty we gave,” Souths coach Anthony Seibold said. “They put us under pressure with it.

“I think in some ways we also did it to them. We scored five tries and made more meters than them. I just thought there were a couple of key moments. We’ll learn from that.”

St. George kept its season alive when it beat more-favored Brisbane 48-18 in the last of the weekend’s qualifying finals, helped by a first half hat-trick to backrower Tariq Sims. The win came at a heavy cost and the team may be without injured stars Gareth Widdop, Jack de Belin and James Graham for the clash with Souths.

Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco repaid their multi-million dollar signings when they steered the Sydney Roosters to a 21-12 win over Cronulla in the other elimination final.

Tedesco scored tries on either side of halftime while Cronk scored a try and set up another before nailing a field goal that clinched the Roosters’ win over a battered Sharks team.

The Roosters now progress directly to the preliminary final in two weeks’ time while Cronulla takes on Penrith in next week’s semifinals. Penrith beat the New Zealand Warriors 27-12 to keep their season alive and to end the Warriors’ first appearance in the finals series in seven years.

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