Canberra have done the incredible, breaking a losing streak that spans back seven years – reigniting their slim finals hopes in the process.
Most clubs in the NRL have a bogy team, but for Canberra, Melbourne’s presence on a football field is truly terrifying as prior to this weekend’s upset victory the Storm had won 14 straight encounters.
But that mattered for nothing as the Raiders’ Origin contingent overshadowed their more fancied rivals as well as the NSW coach.
Craig Bellamy must be wondering what Joel Monaghan has been eating since Wednesday night, and asking himself just where this devastating centre has sprung from!
Monaghan looked lost when he lined up against Queensland midweek, but at home on Canberra soil, the red-haired centre was absolutely unstoppable and certainly put his hand high in the air for selection in Origin III.
Likewise, dumped Game One five-eighth Terry Campese had a point to prove to Bellamy and he sent the message that he still has a lot to offer the representative arena with a confident display.
It wasn’t a polished performance from the Storm, but they accept that the Origin period will be difficult and would have accounted for a few dropped games while their stars struggle with the extra workload.
With three Origin stars (Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater) backing up and a fourth, Dallas Johnson, unable to take the field, it surprised no one that the Storm were slow out of the blocks.
Canberra needed to start well and they got the perfect energiser when stocky winger Justin Carney accepted a Joel Monaghan bat-back to score in the 13th minute.
Ten minutes later Monaghan had a four-pointer of his own, and when he leapt high above the Storm to latch onto a Marc Herbert bomb and score his second, the Storm knew they had a game on their hands.
In the second half, tries to Inglis and Will Chambers had Melbourne threatening to send the crowd home in tears, but a try on the bell to Bronson Harrison ensured Canberra broke the hoodoo and secured a well-earned two competition points.
The Game Swung When… Joel Monaghan soared above Joseph Tomane in the 12th minute to set up Justin Carney’s opening try. It showed that Canberra were out there to win the game and weren’t going to be bullied by a team they hadn’t beaten in seven years.
It also triggered something deep inside Monaghan that resulted in the mild-mannered ‘ranga’ playing one of the best games of his career.
Who Was Hot… Canberra’s right-hand side attack was absolutely deadly with Monaghan and Carney both bagging doubles, and wide-running second-rower Bronson Harrison also crossing.
In total, all of Canberra’s points came from the same corridor of the field – with Greg Inglis seemingly still suffering from Trent Barrett’s Origin high shot.
Josh Dugan, back after a five-week absence, also had an outstanding game at the back – running for 281 metres from 22 runs including a line-break, 10 tackle breaks, three offloads and a try assist. He has a massive NRL future ahead of him. Bronson Harrison (103 metres, 37 tackles), Dane Tilse (154 metre) and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (139 metres) all made sure the Raiders won the forwards battle. Cam Smith was impressive for the Storm making 49 tackles, coming up with his first try of the year and generally putting in a wholehearted effort all game just a few days after slogging it out for Queensland.
Who Was Not… Inglis was very quiet, until the 57th minute when Ryan Hoffman put him into a gap; he was clearly not 100 per cent and should not have been on the field. The Queensland star missed three tackles, and had three more that were deemed ineffective, on a day when his Origin opposite, Monaghan, claimed a knockout victory.
The Storm’s starting props Brett White (69 metres) and Adam Blair (41 metres) made no inroads into the Raiders’ pack and never laid a platform.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Canberra are well known for their ability to score long-range tries, but after this match they could well be developing a reputation as a team that can butcher a try as well!
To kick off the second half Josh Dugan made a superb break off a kick-return and streaked downfield when he was confronted by Billy Slater. Dugan had five players in support, and the scoreboard attendant might as well have ticked the score over right then – but Slater incredibly managed to snuff out the play when he ran down Campese four metres out from the line. A magical defensive play that showed that this cocky kid is more than just a dynamo with the ball in his mitts.
Refs Watch… Canberra benefited from a 7-1 penalty count in front of a small, but loud, home crowd.
The decision to penalise Melbourne prop Adam Blair for a leg pull in the 78th minute cost the Storm one final shot at Canberra, and left many people scratching their heads…
NRL.com Best & Fairest…
3 points – Joel Monaghan (Raiders): Quite simply outstanding. Had a hand in four tries (scoring two and setting up two others) and showed up his opposite Greg Inglis in a dominant performance; 2 points – Josh Dugan (Raiders): Was huge at fullback – made 281 metres from 22 runs, had a try assist and a line-break… How he didn’t score a try is one of life’s great mysteries! 1 point – Bronson Harrison (Raiders): Tireless as always, made 37 tackles, scored a try and charged for 103 metres.
Raiders 26 (J Carney 2, J Monaghan 2, B Harrison tries; T Campese 3 goals) def Storm 16 (C Smith, G Inglis, W Chambers tries; C Smith 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 9,551.