The Canberra Raiders showcased their premiership credentials with a fantastic 22-8 win over the Melbourne Storm.
Canberra out defend the defensive kings
In a game that was billed as the league's best attack (Canberra) against the league's best defence (Melbourne), it was the Raiders who won the game on the back of their brilliant defensive effort.
Canberra swamped the Storm ball players every chance they got and stuck all of their crucial one-on-one tackles, as Melbourne were unable to get into a rhythm offensively due to the tireless work from the home side.
Ricky Stuart's men defended this way for 80 minutes, and the coach was thrilled with the effort from his troops.
"The defence was very pleasing. We've worked hard at it, but we were consistent with it tonight and I was very pleased for them, because we've worked really hard at it for a long time," Stuart said.
Captain Jarrod Croker echoed his coach's thoughts, and said his teammates were there for one another defensively throughout the entire game.
"I was very proud of the boys, we talk about basing our game on the back of our defence and it was just pure attitude tonight… the boys just showed up for each other," Croker added.
Fast start catches out Melbourne
Joey Leilua's try inside 47 seconds was the fastest try the league had seen all season, and it certainly set the tone for a brilliant night for the Raiders.
On the game's first set of six, the home side shifted the ball to the right and Elliott Whitehead found Leilua who broke the lines, but the big centre still had plenty of work to do.
After passing back on the inside to Blake Austin, the five-eighth looked through before slipping over 10 metres short from the line, but had the awareness to flick the ball up to Leilua as the Raiders struck a big blow inside the opening 60 seconds.
Storm blow chance to seal top spot
After the Sharks lost to the Dragons on Saturday night, a win at GIO Stadium for the Melbourne Storm would have seen them almost cement the minor premiership.
Had the Storm won they would have been three points clear of Cronulla with just three games left, as the two teams meet at AAMI Park in the final round.
While the lost doesn’t affect their top two chances, it significantly increases Canberra's, as the Raiders are now just two wins behind Cronulla.
While the Sharks are still in the box seat for a home final, the Raiders will be backing themselves to push Cronulla for that top two berth given their fantastic current run of form.
Raiders' roll continues
After ending Melbourne's six game winning streak on Monday night, the Raiders have extended their own to seven in a row, and are the most in-form team in the competition just three weeks out from the finals.
Even though their defence was brilliant against the Storm it's been the Green Machine's attack that has been the most impressive aspect throughout this run, as Monday night's total of 22 was the lowest score they've registered in the past seven wins.
The Eels, Sea Eagles and Wests Tigers await the Raiders in the final rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership season, and Canberra fans would be excited at the prospect of heading into the finals having won their past 10 games.
Bellamy labels Raiders as team to beat
Following their defeat at the hands of the Raiders, Storm coach Craig Bellamy said the Raiders side is the team to beat at this stage of the season.
Despite Melbourne and Cronulla occupying higher positions on the NRL ladder, Bellamy said neither of those sides were playing as good as the Raiders have during their recent stretch.
"The Raiders have been contenders for the last 3-4 weeks at least, they're the team on the up," Bellamy said.
"We all know Cronulla got beaten on the weekend, we all know the Cowboys got beat and now we all know we got beaten, so I reckon those teams have plateaued a bit over the past couple of weeks.
"At the moment, the Raiders are the team that are lifting their execution and all-around game, so they're the team at the moment, without a doubt."