Melbourne Storm delilvered what could be a fatal blow to the Canberra Raiders’ finals aspirations with a 20-14 victory in Canberra today, although they suffered injury blows with the loss of both their cptain Cameron Smith and Billy Slater during the game, with the latter having been hit high by former St Helens star Sia Soliola.
Kurt Baptiste replaced Josh Hodgson at hooker with Hodgson moving to loose forward and Soliola in the second row and Joe Tapine dropping back to the bench.
For the Storm, Tohu Harris and Young Tonumaipea were out of the side, with Curtis Scott and Joe Stimson in the starting lineup, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona came off the bench to replace Tim Glasby, who dropped to the bench, with Mark Nicholls also joining the 17.
The Storm took a 6-0 lead in the fifth minute when Dale Finucane touched down, but the Raiders responded as Blake Austin put Sezer to level the scores at 6-6 on 16 minutes.
Cameron Smith gave the Storm a two-point lead just before the interval with a penalty.
After the break Will Chambers touched down to extend the lead to 12-6 before Smith’s departure with a pectoral muscle injury, and then Slater was stretchered off the field with Soliola being placed on report.
The Storm added a penalty to stretch their lead to 14-6, but the Raiders hit back with their second try, this time by Nick Cotric to cut the gap to four points.
But when Finucane went over under the posts with ten minutes to go, a comback looked unlikely for the Raiders, even through Sezer scored his second try of the night with five seconds remaining, and the Raiders’ play-off hopes look to be almost over.
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Junior Paulo, 14 Kurt Baptiste, 10 Shannon Boyd, 13 Iosia Soliola, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 9 Josh Hodgson; Interchange: 11 Joseph Tapine, 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Dave Taylor, 17 Michael Oldfield
Tries: Sezer 2, Cotric; Goals: Croker 1
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 19 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 15 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 17 Joe Stimson, 13 Dale Finucane; Interchange: 10 Tim Glasby, 14 Kenneath Bromwich, 16 Nate Myles, 18 Mark Nicholls
Tries: Finucane 2, Chambers; Goals: Smith 3, Munster 1
Monday’s edition of League Express, available in the shops or online, will feature full coverage of all the weekend’s NRL matches.