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Newcastle Knights slain Melbourne Storm in NRL Semi

For the first time in a long time, there was more stagger than swagger about Melbourne at the business end of the NRL finals.

The Storm's 18-16 semi-final loss to a brave and brilliant Newcastle at AAMI Park on Saturday night was a rarity in so many ways.

Only in 2010, when their salary cap penalties banished them from finals, have the Storm missed the preliminary final since 2006.

Usually Melbourne's Mad Monday seems to be spent flying home from Sydney with a premiership trophy won the night before, then sharing it with supporters at a fan day, sunglass-clad after a few thousand celebratory drinks.

The Storm's biggest mistake in the past eight seasons has been that much-talked about off-field one.

On-field, errors have been rare.

But the danger signs were there early for the competition's most resilient recent benchmark.

Uncharacteristic mistakes by the Storm - witness both superstar fullback Billy Slater and Sisa Waqa dropping kicks which resulted in Newcastle tries - were contagious. For so long, the Storm's so-called "big three" - Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk - have served them well.

Rarely do all three have an off-night.

So Saturday night was another rarity, though it doesn't do Newcastle's outstanding performance justice.

The Knights were brilliant.

A sure first half was followed by standing up to everything the Storm could throw at them in the second.

Trailing 18-4 as Matt Hilder crossed early in the second half was always going to be hard for Melbourne to peg back, especially when they hadn't brought their A-game.

Even when the Storm got close when Jesse Bromwich crossed with 15 minutes left to go, the Knights looked solid and capable of laying to rest a seven-match losing streak against Melbourne.

For Knights coach Wayne Bennett, it was a rare recent one-up on his former protege at the Broncos Craig Bellamy.

Storm forward Jason Ryles departs the NRL without the premiership he craved.

Knights veteran Danny Buderus fights another day - his long kiss goodbye to the NRL delayed at least until a preliminary final showdown with the Roosters next weekend that whets the appetite.

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