The stage had been set for another bruising round between two great NRL heavyweights at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Instead, minor premiers Melbourne hardly broke a sweat in a knockout 40-12 win over Manly on Friday night, earning a preliminary final berth and a welcome week off.
The qualifying final was billed as a Sunshine Coast stoush, extending a feud that had begun in earnest in the 2007 grand final and erupted in the now infamous Battle of Brookvale 10 years ago.
However, the Storm juggernaut just kept rolling along, registering 40 points or more for the 12th time this year and relegating their arch-rivals the Sea Eagles to a knockout semi-final next week.
Melbourne’s only complaint after their fifth straight win over Manly was losing hooker Brandon Smith (concussion) in the 18th minute.
Manly had been considered the team mostly likely to inflict a rare loss on the defending champions, cruising into the finals off the back of fullback Tom Trbojevic’s brilliance.
But Manly appeared to be running on empty against a ruthless Storm outfit that didn’t look back after grabbing a commanding 24-6 halftime lead.
Hot Dally M Medal favourite Trbojevic was held scoreless for just the third time this year, rarely threatening thanks to Melbourne’s smothering defence.
Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen scored either side of the break to blow the score out to 30-6 with Cameron Munster looking ominous at pivot after overcoming a knee issue to play.
But Manly showed signs of life when Jason Saab bagged his second in the 51st minute after Isaac Lumelume made a mess of a Rueben Garrick kick.
Fury and frustration
The match threatened to erupt in the 55th minute when Josh Schuster was placed on report for a high shot on Jahrome Hughes and it was almost on again in the 71st after a late hit on Manly’s Brad Parker.
But there was no fight left from Manly after Justin Olam crashed over in the 77th minute and Papenhuyzen added the finishing touches with a two-point field goal on the fulltime siren.
Melbourne had a dream start when they scored at a point a minute to lead 16-0.
Lumelume was over in the third minute after the Storm pounced on a grassed pass in a mix up between Daly Cherry-Evans and Morgan Harper.
It was 10-0 after Kenny Bromwich defied three defenders to roll over in the 10th minute but had to wait a few anxious moments for the bunker’s green light.
And alarm bells were no doubt ringing for Manly when prop Christian Welch scored a soft try four minutes later.
But after Harper was denied a 29th minute try off a contentious forward pass call, Manly were over two minutes later when Saab snaffled up a Cherry-Evans kick.