SYDNEY (AP) Melbourne overcame injuries to stars Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to beat Canberra 20-14 and to stay atop the National Rugby League table with six regular season rounds remaining.
Canberra’s Sia Soliola was placed on report for a late, swinging arm tackle on Slater, who was knocked out and carried from the field in the 50th minute.
Melbourne protested that Soliola, who later set up a try for Canberra, should have been sent off.
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”If it’s not a sending off then I don’t know what is a sending off,” coach Craig Bellamy said. ”For him to get knocked out like that, it’s pretty severe. He’s talking but he’s not feeling too good.”
In a statement late Saturday, NRL referees boss Tony Archer agreed Soliola should have been sent off.
”It’s important to note that Sia Soliola is on report and the matter will be addressed by the Match Review Committee,” Archer said. ”But based on a review of the tackle, the incident did meet the indicators of a send off.”
Slater is thought likely to be sidelined for at least a week but Australia captain Smith, who left the field with a pectoral injury, might miss more of Melbourne’s run-up to the playoffs. It was the first time since 2009 Smith played less than 50 minutes of a premiership match for Melbourne.
Smith later said the decision to leave the field was precautionary and the seriousness of the injury was yet to be determined.
”The decision was to come off because there’s still a long way to go in the season,” he said. ”It wasn’t worth the risk, to be honest.”
Cameron Munster kicked a penalty after Slater’s departure to give Melbourne a 14-6 lead before Soliola contributed to a try by Nick Cotric which cut their lead to four points with 15 minutes remaining.
Dale Finucane’s second try restored the lead and Canberra halfback Aidan Sezer completed his double with a try in the final minute after Munster was sin-binned.
Canberra’s loss was a major setback to its playoffs hopes, dropping it back to 10th place, two matches outside the top eight.
The Roosters’ 28-4 win over Newcastle left it in second place, two points behind Melbourne and two points ahead of Brisbane, who beat the Bulldogs 42-12. Brisbane took charge of the match when it scored 18 points in a seven-minute spell spanning halftime.
Cronulla beat Souths 26-12, and North Queensland beat the New Zealand Warriors 24-12 to join the Broncos in fourth and fifth places respectively, separated by points differential.
Sixth-placed Manly has a chance to move up when it plays St. George Illawarra on Sunday, while St. George could move up from eighth place. Parramatta, two points behind Manly in seventh place, plays Wests.