The Canberra Raiders have made a winning return to GIO Stadium with a 22-16 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons on Friday night, 3 July.
The Raiders looked to have the game wrapped up early in the second half but were made to withstand a spirited Dragons fightback.
Ricky Stuart made some surprise late changes to his side with stars Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii shifting to the bench with Emre Guhler and Ryan Sutton to start in their place.
The changes seemed to work with Nick Cotric giving the Raiders a fast start with a try in just the 4th minute after he bulldozed his way to line. Jarrod Croker converted the try to give the Raiders a 6-0 lead.
It was then Bailey Simonsson’s time to show his supreme athleticism, taking a spectacular catch off a George Williams kick to double the Raiders lead to 12-0 after 14 minutes.
Iosia Soliola was taken from the field in the 18th minute for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) after a nasty head clash left him with a bloody nose and he would not return for the match.
Despite losing Soliola, the Raiders continued to dominate the match and were rewarded late in the first half when Williams used some lovely footwork to score his first try for the club and give them an 18-0 lead at half time.
The second half started with the Dragons on top after some poor discipline from the Raiders gifted them field position.
They couldn’t capitlise on their territorial dominance though, and when the Raiders finally got the ball on the attack, they made them pay.
Jack Wighton put through a perfectly weighted grubber which Jarrod Croker gleefully pounced on to score his first try of the season and give the Raiders a 22-0 lead after 55 minutes.
The game swung momentum after the Dragons made some easy metres and Matt Dufty got on the end of a Corey Norman grubber to bring the score back to 22-4 after 59 minutes.
The Dragons had their second try in the space of 5 minutes when Jason Saab got on the outside of Cotric and delivered a pass for Zac Lomax to score which brought the scores back to 22-10 with 15 minutes to go.
The Raiders looked out on their feet for much of the second half but it looked like time would be on their side until one last twist in the tale.
Euan Aitken broke through some soft Raiders defence and set up Dufty for his second try of the night and a quick conversion brought the scores to 22-16 with just over a minute to go, leaving the Dragons with one last chance to even the scores.
With the final play of the game, Norman put up a high kick deep into their attacking territory but the Raiders knocked it out of bounds as time expired to give them a hard-earned 22-16 victory.
The Raiders had lost their previous two matches so the win was much-needed, but with the Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs in the next three weeks, they will need to improve dramatically to win those games.