The Canberra Raiders have produced a stunning comeback from 18 points down to pull off a remarkable 22-18 victory over ladder leaders the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park on Saturday evening.
The Green Machine looked dead and buried when they trailed 18-0 after half an hour, but they rallied on the back of co-captains Josh Hodgson and Jarrod Croker to score 22 unanswered points and maintain their push towards a top-four finish.
Forced to play much of the first 30 minutes with just 12 men after first Jack Wighton then Joseph Tapine were sent to the sin bin, the Raiders looked like they were about to become yet another home victim for the Storm as the hosts dominated the opening exchanges.
But this Raiders outfit is made of sterner stuff and they produced an amazing turnaround to cross for three second-half tries, with powerhouse prop Josh Papalii scoring the sealer to clinch an amazing triumph.
Match: Storm v Raiders
Round 22 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
The victory sees the Raiders join the second-placed Roosters on 30 competition points and puts them in the box seat to seal a double chance in the finals.
While the loss won't do too much damage to the Storm's quest to claim the minor premiership, the defeat is sure to raise questions for coach Craig Bellamy as he tries to help his side go one better than last year’s runner-up finish.
Papalii steamrolls the Raiders to victory
There was a touch of September in the air on a mild August afternoon in Melbourne and the hosts made a fast start when Cameron Munster set up Justin Olam for the opening try of the match after just five minutes.
Olam turned provider moments later as the Storm made the most of their numerical advantage for Josh Addo-Carr to touch down out wide, before Fijian winger Suliasi Vunivalu got in on the act to help make it 18-0.
The Raiders had a lifeline when Croker was given the benefit of the doubt by the video referee, but the Storm still held sway 18-4 as the teams headed to the sheds.
Hodgson landed a 40-20 early in the second half to give the visitors the ascendancy and they used that momentum to score out wide when Croker completed his double following a deft grubber kick from his co-captain.
Rapana try sets up grandstand finish
The Raiders continued to pepper away and some quick hands from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad helped Jordan Rapana score with 10 minutes remaining to set up a grandstand finish.
Hodgson pulled off one of his trademark one-on-one steals to help the Raiders win the ball back in good field position with five minutes remaining and Papalii iced the fairytale comeback when he scored under the posts to clinch the victory for the visitors.