The Canberra Raiders slim finals hopes have been dealt a massive blow as they fell just short of beating the Melbourne Storm 20-14 in a tight contest.
A double from Aidan Sezer wasn’t enough to get the Raiders over the line despite Cameron Smith failing to return to the field after halftime due to an arm injury.
With their season hanging on a thread, the Raiders fell behind early as Melbourne opened the scoring after just four minutes.
A late offload from Nelson Asofa-Solomona landed in the hands of Dale Finucane
who crossed over untouched next to the posts. Cameron Smith had no problems adding the extras to give the storm an early lead.
Storm stayed on top of the Raiders after play resumed and looked dangerous on many occasions.
But Back-to-back penalties marched the Raiders up field where they found themselves in prime attacking position for the first time in the match.
After play broke down on the 4th tackle, Blake Austin ran across field tempting the defence before his halves partner Aidan Sezer stormed onto a short ball to barge his way over right beneath the posts.
Jarrod Croker easily guided the ball over the cross bar to tie the game 6-apeice with 25 minutes remaining in the first half.
With momentum behind them and the fiery Raiders contingent cheering them on, the Raiders enjoyed a host of possession down Melbourne’s end of the field.
Despite some close calls and some slick back-line plays, Melbourne’s brick wall defence remained un-broken as the Storm showed why they have the leagues best defence.
On the stroke of half time the Storm were awarded a penalty right in front of the posts, opting for the two points to take a slim 8-6 lead into the second half.
After a tight first half play got back underway with one noticeable absentee.
Cameron Smith failed to start the match suffering a suspected left arm injury re-shuffling the Storms attack.
With the match well and truly up in the air, it was the Storm who would get an early advantage once again.
Just 4 minutes into the second half, the Storm pounced on a loose carry from Dave Taylor and made the most of the first attacking opportunity of the half.
In a typical Melbourne try, the ball glided through the hands of their star studded back-line before Will Chambers got on the Inside of Croker for their second of the night.
With Smith off the field the kicking duties were handed to Cameron Munster who clipped the posts from out wide failing to convert, making the scores 12-6 with 33 minutes remaining.
Shorty after, a high shot from Sia Soliola landed him in hot water and gave the Storm another chance to stretch the lead by two points.
Munster made no mistake with the kick, moving the scores to 14-6 with 30 minutes remaining.
The match fell back into an arm wrestle following the penalty goal with both sides enjoying attacking chances but also defending their line well.
But in the 62nd minute the match turned on its head after the Raiders cruised down the field and forced a dropout handing the Raiders an opportunity to get back into the match.
On the 4th tackle a lofty ball from Austin landed in the path of Soliola who quickly found teenage sensation Nick Cotric flying down the sideline for the Raiders second try of the night.
Kicking from the sideline, Croker failed to add the extras brining the scores to 10-14 with 15 minutes remaining.
But in a horror restart that sums up the Raiders up and down season, Cotric followed his heroics with a knock-on off the kick off.
With a full set of six on the Raiders line, the Storm managed to come out with a four-pointer despite a chorus of ‘Boos’ coming from the crowd following the controversial decision of try.
With the try converted the score line grew to 20-10 with 10 minutes remaining as the Raiders home crowd fell silent for the first time of the night.
With time running out, the Raiders started to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the storm in a desperate attempt to get back into the game.
A late chip kick found Jarrod Croker who ran 50 metres before Cameron Munster was sent from the field for a personal foul.
After some frantic play it was once again the Raiders halves who combined with Sezer jumping on an Austin kick to score with just 10 seconds reaming.
With time of the essence the Raiders chose not to convert and put all their faith into one last play off the kick off.
With the scores now 14-20 the Raiders shifted the ball straight away, but a kick from Elliott Whitehead found the touchline instead of Jordan Rapana as the full time siren sounded.
The Raiders now travel down to Sydney to take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs.