Raiders warrior Josh Hodgson could be out for the season with a suspected ACL tear, capping off a horror night for Canberra, ridiculed by injuries and contentious decisions.
Both sides scored three tries a piece, but it was a penalty goal and perfect conversion rate from Cam Smith that gave the Storm their match winning buffer.
Ryan Papenhuyzen was the star of the show, to go with his five tackle breaks and line break assist, the pint-sized fullback ran 246 metres and capped off his night with a spectacular long range try after hunting down a George Williams grubber.
Brenko Lee drew first blood for the Storm, capitalising on a huge Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad clanger in the ninth minute. A well placed Jahrome Hughes grubber sat in the in-goal, and the fullback miscued his attempt to slap it dead, allowing Lee to pounce and ground the ball millimetres within the field of play.
The mistake setting the tone for a sloppy night – attributed to the extreme dew.
Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton were both held up in-goal, and straight after the set a Brenko Lee error five metres out handed it straight back to the Raiders. A set restart and another penalty ensued, making a Canberra try look inevitable until a Josh Hodgson forward pass released all the pressure, or so they thought.
Brenko Lee spilt the ball on tackle one and Melbourne were straight back in the pressure cooker, the opening try scorer quickly going from hero to zero after the two costly errors.
George Williams forced the issue, earning a goal-line dropout and ending the opening 20 minutes of play with Melbourne having laid 19 tackles in their defensive 20.
Dunamis Lui spilt the footy and at last the Storm had a chance to get off the back foot.
Not quite. For the third consecutive time they lost the ball on tackle one, Justin Olam the perpetrator on this occasion.
A Josh Hodgson short pass had Josh Papalii crashing over the line, and at long last Storm succumbed to the pressure – Canberra had 87% possession in the ten minutes leading up to that try – squaring the ledger at six all.
A Nicoll-Klokstad knock on, and resulting penalty from a time violation packing the scrum, finally let Melbourne get on the attack.
A Bunker howler and Josh Hodgson injury delivered a brutal double blow to the Raiders, that would ultimately cost them six points.
Josh Addo-Carr and Bailey Simonsson were both in hot pursuit of the dribbling footy, both had eyes for the footy, if anything it was Addo-Carr that diverted his path towards
Simonsson, they collided and tumbled in a messy tangle of arms and legs. Cries of penalty try from the one eyed Storm faithful.
Bailey Simonsson 'tackling the player without the ball'
The incident was sent to the Bunker, and even though Simonsson never so much looked at Addo-Carr, let alone tackle him, Melbourne were awarded a penalty and Simonsson ten minutes in the bin. To make matters worse, had the penalty not been awarded Canberra would’ve had a 20 metre tap and subsequent seven tackle set.
Whilst the drama was unfolding Josh Hodgson lay on the turf in agony. As replays circulated, it became apparent this was no minor injury, with all the hallmarks of that dreaded ACL tear. Canberra fans, staff and players alike could do nothing but look away.
With 12 on the field and the green machine’s heart and soul reduced to a hobble, ultra-professionals Cameron Smith & co got to work capitalising on the Raiders’ hardship.
Their move to attack the Simonsson-less edge paying immediate dividends with Papenhuyzen putting Addo-Carr over to stretch the lead to six.
George Williams first class kicking forced a goal-line drop out, and Storm treaded a thin line between gamesmanship and cheating. For the second time of the night a player got taped up on the field before the drop out, wasting time and allowing the Melbourne defence precious seconds to rest. When the referee ordered him off the field, Cameron Smith carried on and his theatrics wasted more precious time. By the time Smith took the dropout, his troops were fully recuperated.
The time wasting tactics threw the Raiders off, and they made a meal of the return. Another big let off for the Storm that allowed them to maintain their 12-6 lead into the half.
Storm’s lead was stretched beyond a converted try when Christian Welch made contact with opposing number Dunamis Lui off the ball, and went to ground relatively easily. Winning a penalty under the sticks and taking the penalty count at that stage of the game to 9-2 in favour of Melbourne.
Some Ryan Papenhuyzen magic bought about more Canberra heartache. He raced laterally to collect a George Williams grubber and expertly pulled up inside the field of play on the slip n’ slide surface, turned 90 degrees and took off like a road runner down the touchline, shrugging a tackle while he was at it and flying three quarters of the field to stretch the score line to 20-6.
The Raiders had more chances, Elliot Whitehead looked certain to score but hit the deck too early and lost control of the ball. Simonssen was disallowed a try for obstruction, until one finally stuck. Jarrod Croker’s quick catch and release from a Jack Wighton pass found Nick Cotric alone on the wing as the extra man. Cotric plucked the pass at ankle height and lunged into the left corner from a stalled start.
Elliott Whitehead's missed try proved decisive
Nicoll-Klokstad bashed his way over the line in the final minute, bringing Canberra within a try and doing enough to make those in purple worry.
The Raiders had two final plays in the dying seconds to pull off a miracle but it wasn’t to be. Fittingly the ball found its way to best on ground Papenhuyzen who kicked it into touch to seal a sweet Storm victory.
Melbourne rode good fortune and the rub of the green to seek vengeance for their round three loss, whilst Canberra were faced with plenty of adversity.
If the worst is to be confirmed and Josh Hodgson is out for the season, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Raiders. After a fast start to the season, their only win from the last four games has come against the Dragons and they are slipping perilously closer to the back end of the eight, a clash against the high flying Roosters next week not making things easier.
Melbourne are a premier organisation that know how to win, and tonight was no exception. They got the job done without Cameron Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen was the Storm’s shining light and is no doubt the man to inspire their post ‘big three’ success.