The Canberra Raiders announced themselves as premiership contenders last night, outclassing the Melbourne Storm 22-6 at AAMI Park on the back of stellar performances from Englishmen George Williams and Josh Hodgson.
It’s the third time in a row the Raiders have beaten the Storm in Melbourne after two nail-biting victories late in the season last year, however this time it was done a little more comfortably.
Canberra made a fast start with Jordan Rapana crossing the line after just 3 minutes.
Rapana was named as a late inclusion to the starting side for the injured Bailey Simonsson, and looked completely at home on the unfamiliar left wing.
A lovely cut out ball from Jack Wighton and a lightning quick set of hands from Jarrod Croker saw Rapana stroll over untouched to give Canberra a 6-0 lead.
It was then over to the other wing just 10 minutes later with Nick Cotric on the end of a perfect pass from Williams to score acrobatically in the corner, pushing the lead to 12-0.
The Raiders defended their line resolutely until the 29th minute when Dale Finucane crashed over under the posts for the Storm’s only try of the match.
Canberra quickly regained the momentum when Williams made a clean break through the line and found fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad hunting through the middle to make it 18-6 heading into half-time.
Highlights were few and far between in the second half with plenty of 20m restarts and penalties from both sides leading to a scrappy, albeit gripping display.
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart labelled their second-half as “disappointing” while his counterpart Craig Bellamy described Melbourne Storm’s entire performance “embarrassing”.
Despite both coaches’ complaints, it was still a fast-paced, engaging contest with perhaps the biggest moment of the match coming in the 73rd minute.
With scores still at 18-6, Melbourne had peppered the Raiders’ goal line for several sets to no avail, the Raiders now signature steely defence holding strong.
When Melbourne prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona grubbered the football on the fourth tackle it appeared the Storm were out of options.
However it appeared they had finally come up with the goods when Justin Olam collected a Cam Munster grubber in-goal, but Raiders backrower Joe Tapine wasn’t interested, denying Olam with one of the tackles of the season.
Flipping Olam on his back as he gathered the ball, Tapine kept him upright to make sure he couldn’t ground it, saving a certain try.
Tapine was rewarded only a few minutes later when Canberra produced a piece of champagne footy at the death to seal the match in style.
Collecting the ball inside his own thirty metres on the last tackle, Williams feigned a kick before taking off.
He spread it wide to centre Curtis Scott who put in a lovely chip kick, collected by Cotric who then put in a kick of his own. After a fortunate bounce, Tapine pounced on the ball in the in-goal to cap off a 22-6 victory.
It was another signature line-bending performance from Josh Papalii in game 200, who stepped up to take the final conversion but unfortunately sprayed the kick to the amusement of his teammates and fans alike. His wayward shot in no way a reflection of just how great Papalii has been for the Canberra Raiders.
The Raiders will have to get used to flying in, getting the job done, and then flying out all on game day with no matches at Canberra Stadium until late July at the earliest.