The top-of-the-table Melbourne Storm have severely dented the Canberra Raiders’ finals aspirations with a 20-14 victory in the nation’s capital.
Leading 12-6 with 30 minutes remaining, the Storm overcame the loss of Cameron Smith (pec) and fullback Billy Slater in the 50th minute after he was worryingly stretched off the field.
Raiders forward Sia Soliola can consider himself extremely lucky to avoid being sent off for collecting Slater with a late high shot but will face an anxious wait this week after he was placed on report.
The visitors added the penalty goal to extend a 14-6 lead but the Raiders gave themselves the final 15 minutes to salvage their season when they cut the deficit 14-10.
However, Canberra faltered in another tight contest as they unforgivably coughed up possession from the kick-off in allowing the ball to go dead that Melbourne capitalised on in the ensuing set.
The Storm clinched the road win, asserting a 20-10 lead with 10 minutes left as Dale Finucane pounced on a spilt grubber kick to earn his first-ever career double, scoring under the posts.
Canberra declined the conversion after Aidan Sezer scored his second try of the night with five seconds remaining for one final play but couldn’t find a way to go 100 metres for a miracle finish.
The loss drops the Raiders to a 7-11 record and leaves fans pondering what’s happened after so much pre-season promise and optimism.
The Storm struck first, exploiting an early penalty to score and take a handy 6-0 lead in the fifth minute. Finucane was the recipient of a perfectly-timed offload courtesy of Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who was a late addition into the starting side.
In desperate need of victory, the Raiders responded as Blake Austin found halves partner Sezer just before the line, who managed to hang on to a wobbly grounding under the posts and level the scores 6-all after 16 minutes.
A penalty on the stroke of half-time allowed captain Cameron Smith to give the visitors a slim two-point advantage.
Melbourne opened the scoring after the break as Will Chambers scored on the right wing and set themselves for the win with 12-6 in the 46th minute.
While all post-match attention will be focused on the health of Slater, the result sets up a do-or-die clash for Canberra against the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday while the Storm take on fierce adversaries the Manly Sea Eagles at home on Sunday
Melbourne Storm 20 (Dale Finucane 2, Will Chambers tries; Cameron Smith 3, Cameron Munster goals) beat Canberra Raiders 14 (Aidan Sezer 2, Nick Cotric tries; Jarrod Croker goal) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 14,115. Half-time: Storm 8-6.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points: Cameron Munster. 2 points: Dale Finucane. 1 point: Nick Cotric.