Storm's win over Raiders comes at huge cost
MELBOURNE'S gritty 20-14 win over Canberra on Saturday could come at a huge cost for the premiership favourites.
The Storm lost captain Cameron Smith and fellow veteran star Billy Slater - the latter to a sickening concussion - as they sunk the Raiders' finals hopes in the nation's capital.
Smith came from the ground carrying his left arm just three minutes into the second half.
Reports from the sheds later suggested the injury was an inflammation of a pectoral strain the veteran hooker has carried for several weeks.
The official word will be scans in the coming days to confirm the extent of the injury.
And barely 10 minutes after Smith left the field, Melbourne was left two stars down when Slater was knocked out from a horror late shot from Sia Soliola.
Soliola flew out of the defensive line and hit Slater late, his arm catching the Queensland champion in the head and knocking him senseless.Slater was put on a stretcher and taken off the ground on a medicab. He will most likely need to prove his fitness and be given the green light from a doctor to line up next week.
The loss of the two Origin legends made Melbourne's win all the more impressive.
Already down representative back-rower Tohu Harris to a pre-game injury, as well as centre Cheyse Blair gone for the season, the Storm strangled Canberra to reaffirm their place on top of the competition ladder.
And for Ricky Stuart's men, the loss is probably the final nail in the coffin of their finals dream.
Canberra sits two games behind ninth-placed Penrith and their chances of finishing inside the top eight grows slimmer by the week.
Melbourne struck early when Asofa Nelson-Solomona produced a superb offload to put fellow big man Dale Finucane over the line.
It took 10 minutes for Canberra to hit back, through halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer linking up superbly.
Austin shook a tackle and ran the ball infield to give to Sezer and put him over under the posts, levelling the scoreboard at 6-6.
The Storm had plenty of attacking position for the next 10 minutes but couldn't turn it into points.
A goal-line penalty on the stroke of half time was converted and put Melbourne up 8-6 at the break.
A couple of scrappy errors from both sides on the other side of half time resulted in Will Chambers eventually getting to the line and extending the Storm lead in the 47th minute.
It was barely three minutes later Billy Slater was floored by the arm of Sia Soliola and play was stopped as the champion fullback was taken away on a medicab.
Soliola came out of the line and hit Slater late after the latter had passed the ball.
Despite plenty of support for a rare send off, referee Matt Cecchin opted only to put the Raiders forward on report and he was allowed to remain on the field.
And of course it was Soliola who threw the pass to set up winger Nick Cotric in the corner in the 66th minute to narrow the deficit to just four points.
But, as fate would have it, Finucane scored his second in the 69th minute to ensure the result.
He ran through and pounced on a Jack Wighton error to make it 20-10 in favour of the visitors.
On the stroke of full time Cameron Munster was sin binned for holding Jarrod Croker down in a tackle.
With a minute on the clock and leading by 10 points, it wasn't the dumbest idea from the young fullback to stop the play and cop the punishment.
The Raiders scored in the ensuing set and waived the right to a conversion, leaving five seconds to make up six points.