There was no doubt that this game would be entertaining, as last years Minor Premiers, Melbourne Storm, faced the Grand-Final runners-up, Canberra Raiders at AAMI Park with both teams unbeaten so far.
With Canberra starting their first attacking set on their own try-line, they managed to earn a goal-line drop-out at the end of it.
The end of the following set resulted in the first try of the match. The Raiders shifted the ball from centre field out to the right-hand edge through Jack Wighton and Jarad Croker to reach Jordan Rapana, who scored a try in his first appearance since returning from Rugby Union.
Melbourne attempted to hit straight back though, as Cameron Munster’s kick through was tapped being the dead-ball line by Nick Cotric.
In the set that followed, both Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Felise Kaufusi went close before Cameron Smith’s dribbled kick through was dealt with by Croker, forcing another drop-out.
The play did go to the Bunker though, but Croker was not deemed to have interfered with Jahrome Hughes.
After absorbing some pressure from the Storm, the Raiders found themselves inside 20-metre line again, and George Williams’ looping pass out wide to Nick Cotric landed perfectly in the winger’s hands, and despite plenty left to do, the number 5 dotted down with a spectacular dive.
The 12-point lead for the Raiders was nearly cut down to eight, as Ryan Paphuyzen managed to hold off through Canberra players in a tackle and stretch down to ground the ball.
However, after reviewing the footage in the bunker, the try was ruled out as the full-back was deemed to have knocked-on.
With 20 minutes of the game gone, Canberra were certainly in control, with the Storm making error after error with the ball in hand.
A mistake under the high-ball from Josh Addo-Carr gave the Raiders a scrum just over 10 metres out from the Melbourne line, and on the third tackle managed to force yet another goal-line drop-out.
However, a forward pass from Josh Hodgson meant the home side were let off the hook.
The Storm managed to work their way down to the Canberra line once again though and forced a repeat set.
A bizarre drop-out allowed Papenhuyzen to put Melbourne on the front foot and after a short pass from Brandon Smith to Dale Finucane cut the deficit.
The Raiders wouldn’t allow the Storm to be so close for that long though.
George Williams once again showed class as he stepped through the Melbourne defence to leave him with plenty of open space around him.
With just Papenhuyzen to beat, Williams passed inside to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who slid under the posts to score. Croker converted for 6-18 with three minutes to go under the half.
HALF-TIME: Melbourne Storm 6-18 Canberra Raiders
The second-half started with four seven-tackle sets on the bounce, with Melbourne looking to get back into the game, and the Raiders looking to push further ahead.
The Raiders were so close to pushing 16 points ahead, as Croker linked up with Rapana again, unfortunately for Ricky Stuart’s side, the winger couldn’t quite keep control of the ball in the grounding.
Plenty of back and forth ensued but the Raiders were making some errors in defence which allowed Melbourne to get back into the game.
Tino Faasuamaleaui looked to charge his way over the line, but unfortunately, the young man dropped the ball and let Canberra off the hook.
Jesse Bromwich was the next big man that came close to scoring for the home side, but he couldn’t keep hold of the ball in his attempt to stretch over the line.
Canberra were the next to attack, but Nick Cotric’s kick inside was picked up by Papenhuyzen who set Melbourne back up the other end of the park.
With just over 15 minutes to go, Melbourne butchered another chance to get back into the game, but another dropped ball by Max King meant the Raiders still led by 12.
Melbourne finally looked to have scored the first points of the second half.
Munster’s kick through was gathered by Justin Olam, who seemed to have scored, but Joseph Tapine, Nicoll-Klokstad and Curtis Scott held the centre off the ground to deny the score.
After restarting, the fifth tackle kick was headed towards Suliasi Vunivalu, but Rapana took his opposite number out in the air, as the Storm continued to attack.
Josh Hodgson pulled out a superb defensive one-on-one strip on Jesse Bromwich to deny the Storm, and then four tackles later, kicked a beautiful 40-20 to put Canberra within 10 metres of the Melbourne line.
Craig Bellamy’s side then raced back up the field and Vunivalu was bundled into touch by Papalii and Croker to deny the home side once again.
With a minute left on the clock, Cotric raced down the wing for Canberra and kicked inside for his onrushing teammates.
Both Joseph Tapine and Michael Oldfield looked to ground the ball simultaneously but Tapine was the first man there and scored the first try of the second half and the last of the match to secure the victory for the Green Machine.
Josh Papalii was given the conversion on his 200th appearance for Canberra but failed to kick the goal.
FULL-TIME: Melbourne Storm 6-22 Canberra Raiders
Papenhuyzen, Vunivalu, Olam, Seve, Addo-Carr, Munster, Hughes, J. Bromwich, C. Smith, Asofa-Solomona, Kaufusi, K. Bromwich, Finucane
Interchanges: B.Smith, Faasuamaleaui, Welch, King
Goals: C. Smith (1/1)
Nicoll-Klokstad, Cotric, Croker, Scott, Rapana, Wighton, Williams, Papalii, Hodgson, Lui, Tapine, Whitehead, Horsburgh.
Interchanges: Havili, Guler, Soliola, Oldfield
Tries: Rapana, Cotric, Nicoll-Klokstad Tapine
Goals: Croker (3/3), Papalii (0/1)
Referee: G. Atkins
Touch Judges: G. Badger, T. Smith
Video Referee: B. Norrie
Image Source: @NRL (Twitter)