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The Melbourne Storm proved that they are genuine contenders for the 2004 Telstra Premiership with a convincing 36-18 victory over the Canberra Raiders today at Canberra Stadium.
Despite a slow start where they conceded the first try and bombed two tries, the Storm went to the sheds with a 12-6 lead.
The Storm scored the first two tries of the second half before Canberra matched them try for try, centre Jason Bulgarelli scoring in the 65th minute and giving the Raiders a chance of staging a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
But when Billy Slater scored just two minutes later, it was the beginning of the end for the Raiders.
For the Storm today's match was an ominous warning to rest of the sides that will be competing in this year's finals series that they are not a team to be taken lightly.
For the Raiders, today's loss which now puts them two points outside the top eight with a game against the Roosters next week and they will have to play without promising young forward Michael Weyman who appears to be out for the rest of the season with a collarbone injury.
Canberra Stadium Referee: Paul Simpkins
RAIDERS 18 Tries: Croker, Schifcofske, Bulgarelli Goals: Schifcofske 3/3 defeated by STORM 36 Tries: J Smith, Orford, King, Bell, Geyer, Slater, MacDougall Goals: Orford 4/7
By the clock: Both teams have made late changes for today's game most notably Mark McLinden being moved to the bench for the Raiders to make way for Brad Drew to start at halfback and for the Storm Rodney Howe has been moved to bench and captain Stephen Kearney will play prop.
0 min: Kick Off and this very important match is underway.
1 min: News: The 1st tackle of the game brings penalty to the Raiders as Storm lock Glen Turner is penalised for a high tackle on Ryan O'Hara.
2 min: Try-Raiders: 5/8th Jason Croker scores his 113th career try under the posts after a Simon Woolford kick bounces right into Croker's hands. Clinton Schifcofske is successful with the conversion attempt. Raiders 6-0.
3 min: News: The kick off from Storm hooker Cameron Smith goes over the dead ball line on the full.
15 min: News: Ex International Rodney Howe makes his way on the field for the Storm.
20 min: Try-Storm: Interchange player Jeremy Smith scores with his 1st touch in 1st grade after backing up a run by hooker Cameron Smith. Matt Orford is successful with the conversion from next to the posts. 6 all.
21 min: News: Mark McLinden makes his way onto the field.
22 min: Try-Storm: Halfback Matt Orford finishes a brilliant movement by scoring in the corner to give the Storm the lead for the first time in the match. Orford is successful with the conversion. Storm 12-6.
26 min: News: Raiders interchnage player Michael Weyman is down injured with what appears to be a knock to the collarbone but he decides to play on.
30 min: News: Storm debutant Jeremy Smith bombs a try by dropping a pass from 5/8th Scott Hill with the line wide open.
35 min: News: Raiders interchange forward Michael Weyman is taken from the field with a collarbone injury.
37 min: News: The Storm bomb another try this time when centre Steven Bell drops a perfectly placed pass from Scott Hill with the line wide open.
Halftime Report: After a slow start the Storm have had the better of the first half but have bombed 2 try scoring opportunities that would have given them a match winning lead. If they are not careful the Raiders will take advantage of this.
42 min: News: Storm second rower David Kidwell is denied a try by the video referee after being ruled to be in front of the kicker and not retiring the 10 metres.
48 min: Try-Storm: Stephen Kearney draws in the Raiders winger to pass the ball to winger Matt King to score in the corner. Matt Orford is unsuccessful with the conversion. Storm 16-6.
51 min: News: The Raiders last tackle options are letting them down.
54 min: Try-Storm: Steven Bell scores under the posts after backing up a break made by 5/8th Scott Hill. Matt Orford is successul with the conversion. Storm 22-6.
56 min: News: Bad news for Raiders fans as fullback Clinton Schifcofske is down in backplay with a shoulder injury.
58 min: Try-Raiders: Fullback Clinton Schifcofske defies injury and the attention of 4 Storm defenders to score. Schifcofske is successful with the conversion and the Raiders are back in the game. Storm 22-12.
61 min: Try-Storm: Centre Ben MacDougall gets a superb around the corner pass to Matt Geyer for Geyer to score in the corner. Matt Orford is successful with the conversion. Storm 28-12.
65 min: Try-Raiders: Jason Croker keeps a grubber kick on the toe for centre Jason Bulgarelli to score. Clinton Schifcofske is successful with the conversion. Storm 28-18.
67 min: Try-Storm: The kid from Innisfail Billy Slater runs onto an offload from Steven Bell to score and wrap up the game for the Storm. Matt Orford is unsuccessful with the conversion. Storm 32-18.
73 min: Try-Storm: Matt Geyer bats a Matt Orford kick back into play for centre Ben MacDougall to score. Matt Orford's conversion attempt dosen't have the legs. Storm 36-18.
Fulltime Report: Today the Melbourne Storm proved what a genuine premiership contender they are by absolutely dominating the Raiders in Canberra. ----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - S Hill (Storm) 2 - M Orford (Storm) 1 - M Geyer (Storm) -----------------------------------------