Melbourne’s NRL premiership hopes have suffered a major blow with Cameron Smith facing a stint on the sidelines and Billy Slater suffering a severe head knock in the Storm’s 20-14 victory over Canberra.
Medical staff fear Smith could miss four to six weeks after aggravating a pectoral strain. This forced him to miss most of the second half of Saturday’s clash at GIO Stadium.
But the Storm skipper was more optimistic about the injury, saying scans on Sunday would determine its severity.
“The decision was to come off because there’s still a long way to go in the season,” Smith said.
“It wasn’t worth the risk, to be honest.”
It was the first time since 2009 the ultra-durable Smith had featured in less than 50 minutes of a match for Melbourne.
Slater was taken from the field on a medicab 10 minutes into the second half, after being knocked out by a high shot from Sia Soliola who was lucky not to have been sent off.
The Raiders’ forward was placed on report and apologised to Slater who had regained consciousness by the time he left the ground.
“He’s talking, but he’s not feeling too good, so we’ll just have to see how it goes throughout the week,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
“For him to get knocked out like that, it’s pretty severe.
“If it’s not a sending off, then I don’t know what is a sending off.”
Cameron Munster extended the Storm’s lead to 14-6 with a penalty goal after the Slater hit but, without their superstar fullback and hooker, the Raiders sensed their chance.
Young gun Nick Cotric scored a try with less than 15 minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to four points.
But the Storm showed grit to stem the tide with Dale Finucane scoring his second try, diving on a grubber which trickled under the posts.
Munster was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul in the final minute and, moments later, Raiders halfback Aidan Sezer completed his own try-scoring double.
But it was too late to avoid another close loss.
The defeat keeps Canberra two wins out of the top eight, but that could be extended to three on Sunday if St George Illawarra beat Manly.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was furious with the refereeing after the match, calling for officials to be made accountable.
“Those poor bastards in there – my players – they’re accountable every week,” Stuart said.
“They busted themselves tonight; that’s was one of the best games they played all year tonight.”