The Raiders hosted the Storm having had the better of their recent meetings, if not their long-term history. With the rain easing and the thermometer showing a brisk four degrees, the players faced slippery conditions with numb hands, leading to poor ball control as steam puffed from frustrated nostrils.
After losing star hooker Josh Hodgson to an ACL injury in the first half, the Raiders were unable to match the Storm who eased to a sloppy 20-14 victory.
The first try came in the 10th minute of the game when a kick through from Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes was misjudged by Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the in-goal area. Instead of forcing the ball with his hand, he tried feebly to sweep it over the dead ball line. The ball stood up and Brenko Lee charged through to ground it, millimetres from the line.
Four minutes later, the gloss was taken off Lee's effort as he dropped the ball deep in his own territory. The Raiders piled on the pressure and Jarrod Croker made it over the try line, but was held up. With their next possession, Storm centre Paul Momirovski fumbled the ball as he stood to play it, turning coach Craig Bellamy's mood further.
The Raiders messed up that opportunity through a poor dummy-half pass, but from the ensuing scrum it was Lee again to spill the ball on the first tackle. The Raiders managed to force a goal-line drop-out but Dunamis Lui dropped it early. The ball was back in Storm possession until Justin Olam messed up the next play-the-ball. It was frustrating football to watch.
Finally, the Raiders were able to hang onto the ball long enough for Josh Papalii to crash over. After spending over 10 minutes camped down the Storm end of the field, the Raiders simply had to score. Completely out of character, the Storm had lost the ball on three consecutive first tackles.
With 13 minutes left in the first half, Raiders hooker Hodgson raced out of the defensive line and was stepped by Cameron Smith. Hodgson hit the ground clutching at his right knee. The ball swept left and a kick through saw Raiders winger Bailey Simonsson turn and chase, colliding with Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr in the process. The bunker harshly ruled a professional foul, sending Simonsson to the sin bin, as Hodgson hobbled off with a suspected ACL injury.
It was a turning point in the game, as with that possession and against a shortened defensive line, Addo-Carr crossed in the corner after a quick series of passes. Cameron Smith converted from out wide to take the Storm to a 12-6 lead, which they maintained until the break.
Into the second half the Storm skipped ahead by another two points through a penalty. Then lime green hearts were shattered when Elliott Whitehead made a break ten metres out from the Storm line, dived, but landed short. The impact jarred the ball from his grasp and the bunker ruled no try. The Raiders were left trailing 14-6, but with 25 minutes remaining.
Four minutes later, with the Raiders on the attack again, George Williams put through a clever grubber kick. Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, running flat out towards the sideline, gathered the ball, somehow managed to stop short of the line, turned left and took off downfield outsprinting all-comers to the line. Cameron Smith converted to kick the Storm out to a 20-6 lead.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, the Raiders spun the ball to the left, 10 metres out from the Storm line. Quick hands from Jack Wighton and Croker saw Nick Cotric dive over in the corner. Croker missed the conversion and the score remained 20-10 in the Storm's favour.
The Raiders threw everything they had at the Storm in the closing passages of play, and with 40 seconds remaining Nicoll-Klokstad dived over in the corner. Croker missed the conversion and raced back to prepare for the kick off, hoping for a miracle in the remaining 21 seconds. They spread the ball early and the final play of the game was a kick ahead by Williams which was easily dealt with by Papenhuyzen.
The Storm left the field satisfied with beating both of last year's grand finalists in consecutive weeks, while the Raiders were left to ponder playing the rest of the season without their star dummy-half. First up, they have a grand final rematch with the Roosters next Thursday.