NRL Match Report: Raiders fall to Storm in final game of the year
The Canberra Raiders have drawn curtains on their 2017 campaign with a 32-6 loss to a fast-starting Melbourne Storm outfit at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The Storm raced to 20 unanswered points in the opening 21 minutes to have the game all but wrapped up early in the clash.
The one-sided affair soured Blake Austin’s 100th NRL appearance and Sia Soliola’s 150th game in his return from suspension, but try-scoring machines Jordan Rapana and Suliasi Vunivalu played out a thrilling battle for top try-scorer of the year to give Raiders something to cheer about.
Rapana took to the clash on 20 tries for the season and the Fijian flyer on 22, before the two wingers collected a try each in the space of four minutes midway through the second stanza.
It meant Vunivalu finished on top for the second year running as Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith notched his 355th NRL game to equal the record of Brisbane great Darren Lockyer.
Melbourne drew first blood when second-rower Felise Kaufusi collected the crumbs of a ricocheting Cooper Cronk punt three minutes in.
Canberra skipper Jarrod Croker flew high but wasn’t able to control the Steeden before Smith converted the try.
The Storm had a second try four minutes later when front-rower Jesse Bromwich crashed over to the left of the uprights, before Smith added the extras to hand the hosts a 12-0 lead.
Things continued to go from bad to worse for the Raiders when the Storm pocketed an eight-point penalty try in the 19th minute.
Tohu Harris criss-crossed his way through from close range as Joe Tapine stuck out a leg in an act of desperation, before Smith banged over the two goals to hand Melbourne a 20-0 buffer as a side collected the first eight-point penalty try since 2015.
The Green Machine went agonisingly close to nabbing first points moments later when gun rookie winger Nick Cotric pranced down the left edge to ground the ball after brushing the white paint.
Melbourne took a 20-0 lead into half-time but a shining light for the visitors was fullback Jack Wighton in the opening term, who notched 172 metres.
Canberra wrecking ball Junior Paulo did his best to prompt a response from the troops when he laid a 53rd-minute bell-ringer on Will Chambers.
First points for the men in green followed moments later when Rapana latched on to a pinpoint left-to-right Aidan Sezer punt in the 58th minute that Croker would convert to make things 20-6.
It took the Kiwi international to 21 tries for the season and a solitary four-pointer within Vunivalu.
But in dramatic scenes Vunivalu would cross just four minutes later, darting down the right touchline to collect a Chambers grubber and bustle over just inside the corner post.
Smith made no mistake from the tee as Melbourne extended its lead to 26-6, before the two flying wingers continued to fight a battle within the battle.
Rapana threw himself towards the white line in pursuit of his 22nd try of the year, but the Bunker would show he planted the Steeden on the dead-ball line.
Harris barraged his over in the 78th minute to snag his second four-pointer of the night that Smith would convert to extend Melbourne’s lead to 32-6 and bring to end the Green Machine’s year.