CANBERRA 19 MELBOURNE 24
Flying start ... Billy Slater celebrates one of his two tries. Photo: Getty Images
CANBERRA were left fuming after a try to Blake Ferguson was controversially disallowed in a season-opening 24-19 loss to Melbourne at Canberra Stadium last night.
With Melbourne leading 14-12 late in the first half in appalling conditions, Ferguson barged over in the corner, but the try was denied after five-eighth Terry Campese's cut-out pass to the winger was controversially ruled forward.
It's raining tries ... Billy Slater of the Storm catches a high ball to score the match-winning four points. Photo: Getty Images
Raiders coach David Furner vented his frustration at the fact the decision was made by Gavin Badger, not Brett Suttor, who was the controlling referee at the time.
"I found out it was the pocket referee that called it - there's certainly a question mark there [because of that] without a doubt,'' Furner said. "How the pocket referee can make that decision … we're talking about a forward pass here.''
Asked if such a decision can affect the outcome of a game, Furner replied: ''Of course it can.''
Raiders skipper Campese believed the Ferguson try should have been allowed. "It [my relationship with the referees] was pretty good until that pass I think,'' Campese said. "It's frustrating in this kind of weather. The only way they got in our end in the first 15 minutes was through penalties.
"My relationship with referees is something I'm improving.''
That moment aside, Canberra showed enough last night to indicate they'll be more than competitive this year. After finding themselves 12-0 down after just eight minutes , the hosts showed great resolve to get back into the contest.
At 18-18 with seven minutes left, it seemed Canberra would pull off an upset when Raiders fullback Josh Dugan's ugly field-goal attempt rolled over after hitting the top of the crossbar.
And while Dugan mostly outpointed his Storm rival Billy Slater, it was the man in purple who won the contest that mattered late in the game. With four minutes remaining, the Queensland Origin custodian outleapt Dugan to snaffle a Cooper Cronk cross kick and score his second try, which proved the match-winner. The Storm received the chance to deliver the knockout punch when Campese, who played his first full match for more than a year, knocked on at the halfway line.
It was a cruel blow for Canberra, who shaded Melbourne for the majority, and the 7862 hardy fans who braved the big wet.
In the end the creativity of Melbourne playmaker Cronk proved the difference, the halfback scoring a try and having a big hand in the Storm's other four-pointers.
"He [Slater] is a wonderful player as everyone knows, but I thought the Raiders played really well,'' Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said. "We had a great start but they were on top of us for most of the game. Then when we got some ball in the second half we couldn't seem to score.''
Slater was placed on report for a first-half high shot on Dugan.
Ultimately, the Raiders will be kicking themselves for the shoddy opening seven minutes in which the Storm got the jump on them. But the Green Machine definitely showed great promise, particularly in defence. "We've got to look at the positives - they scored three tries from kicks,'' Furner said. "I thought we handled the conditions quite well, we got ourselves back into the game.''
MELBOURNE 24 (B Slater 2 C Cronk J O’Neill tries C Smith 4 goals) bt CANBERRA 19 (G Buttriss S Fensom J McCrone tries J Croker 3 goals J Dugan field goal) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 7,862.