The Melbourne Storm's defence of the NRL premiership was dealt a massive blow last night with test stars Cameron Smith and Ryan Hoffman out for the rest of the season.
Smith, the Storm's captain and main goal kicker, and the NRL's top hooker, has been banned for two games by the NRL judiciary for a grapple tackle, while second rower Hoffman had ankle surgery yesterday which also ruled him out of Australia's World Cup campaign next month.
Smith won't take any further part in the NRL playoffs after becoming just the third player to be found guilty at the judiciary of unnecessary contact with the head or neck of a player.
The verdict is seen by many as the first real blow in the NRL's fight to eradicate the grapple tackle.
Australian bookmakers have made Manly the new favourites to take out the premiership. The Warriors, who play Manly on Saturday night, are still the outsiders.