The Canberra Raiders almost produced one of the greatest victories in their history, but instead were dealt a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to the New Zealand Warriors at GIO Stadium.
1. This side is full of heart
The Raiders have developed an incredible resilience over recent years and that was on full display in this game.
Having lost the in-form Hudson Young before the game, the Raiders were then dealt three injuries in the opening 15 minutes.
Trailing 6-0, star lock Joe Tapine went down before his replacement Ryan James and Seb Kris were involved in an ugly head clash that forced them off the field.
While many would have written the Raiders off after that start, there’s something about this side that you just knew would respond to the adversity.
They scored the next five of the next six tries to set up a 21-point lead before fatigue really set in and the Warriors came back.
Even after falling behind with one minute remaining, the Raiders still refused to give in and they almost came up with a match winning try in the final play.
Every Raider left standing was forced to step up, but there were a few that stood out. Josh Papalii, Ryan Sutton, Sia Soliola, Jordan Rapana and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad worked their backsides off and were amongst the Raiders best.
Curtis Scott also deserves a special mention for his commitment after playing almost the entire match with a rib injury.
While it was a heartbreaking loss, every Raiders fan would have felt a tremendous sense of pride watching that effort.
2. Ryan Sutton is becoming an automatic selection
Since joining the Raiders in 2019, Sutton has been somewhat of a fringe player, but he is cementing himself as a starter in 2021.
Due to the injuries, Sutton and the rest of the middle forwards were forced to play a ridiculous amount of minutes.
Sutton was called into the starting lineup and played 73 minutes (including the first 64 minutes straight) which is well up from his 38.5 minutes per game average over the first two rounds.
He got through a mountain of work in his time, running for 200 metres from his 23 runs, making 51 tackles and scoring a well-deserved try.
The Raiders forward depth is the feature of their squad this year, but Sutton has gone a long way to becoming one of the first middle forwards picked each week.
3. Something needs to be done about forward passes
While the game was an absolute beauty that had you on the edge of your seat throughout, the main talking point out of the match was the blatant forward pass from Kodi Nikorima that led to Ben Murdoch-Masila scoring a crucial try.
Referee Henry Perenara was in the perfect position to adjudicate and even paused as if he was going to call it forward. However, when he didn’t get the reassurance from his touch judge, he let play continue and awarded the try.
The replay on the big screen clearly showed the pass went a mile forward which caused the home crowd and Ricky Stuart to get a little bit heated.
Now, all referees make mistakes from time to time but Perenara was in the perfect position and still got the call terribly wrong, something even NRL football boss Graham Annesley acknowledged.
Annesley also mentioned that he didn’t want to talk about camera angles and forward passes, which is disappointing as it would have been easy for the bunker to check that pass and deem it forward.
It may get tricky for the bunker to rule on passes that are flat or marginally forward, but you would think it could at least be there for the howlers like this one.
There is talk about the NRL trialling a technology that can judge forward passes, but that won’t be ready anytime soon.
4. How much is left in the Raiders tank for next week?
The players put so much effort into this match, it’s hard to know how much they will have left in the tank for next week.
Sutton and Papalii both played around 70 minutes while Sia Soliola and Siliva Havlili played 52 and 67 minutes each, well up from the 30 and 19 minutes they played the week before.
The whole team looked gassed in the final 20 minutes when the Warriors launched their comeback.
Tapine is likely to miss after picking up an ankle injury while James, Kris and Scott will be touch and go for the game against the Titans on Saturday night.
Thankfully, the club has plenty of depth in the forwards with the likes of Emre Guler, Dunamis Lui, Corey Horsburgh and Corey Harawira-Naera playing NSW Cup on the weekend, while Hudson Young is a chance to return.
The Raiders will most likely need to rely on some of that depth this week when they come up against an improved Titans side.
5. Should the NRL introduce an injury sub?
It was a weekend of carnage in the NRL with the Raiders and Sharks hugely impacted by injuries.
The Sharks were hit even more than the Raiders as they had no fit players on the bench for the entire second half.
It has raised the question about whether or not the NRL should introduce an injury or concussion substitute to help teams and players deal with the lack of rotation.
The AFL introduced a controversial injury sub on the eve of the 2021 season which has divided opinion.
Many believe a strictly concussion sub would be the way to go to stop clubs rorting the system and bringing in a fresh player for a made-up injury.
It’s certainly something for the NRL to look at after such a horrible weekend of injuries and it could stop teams being so heavily disadvantaged when losing a play.