It was truly a tale of two halves at Kogarah Oval in southern Sydney last night as the Raiders held on after a dominant first half to edge out the Cronulla Sharks 12-10.
Fans of the Raiders, Sharks and rugby league in general would have been on the edge of their seats when Sharks half Chad Townsend lined up for a penalty attempt to square the ledger with 20 seconds on the clock.
In the end it was the wayward boot of Townsend, who only managed one goal from four attempts, that proved the difference in the topsy-turvy affair.
Played in very wet conditions in front of just over 3,000 fans who braved the elements, the Raiders started strong against a Sharks outfit out to celebrate 2016 premiership hero Wade Graham’s 250th NRL match.
Controlling possession and territory by playing simple, error-free football, Canberra’s middle forwards moved the ball down the field with ease.
For the second week in a row, Canberra’s bench forwards came on and took control, with Ryan James dinting the line with every hit-up, likewise for Ryan Sutton and Sia Soliola, all of whom contributed well defensively too.
The Raiders spine looked clunky at times inside the attacking 20, with the Sharks defence also doing well to hold out the visitors.
They peppered Cronulla’s goal line until young centre Seb Kris broke through for a well-deserved try in the 23rd minute.
Then, just before half-time, a beautiful ball from Josh Hodgson to Hudson Young saw the power second-rower cross the line to put Canberra ahead 12-0 at the break.
“We were so professional and disciplined in our first 40 minutes,” Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.
But after half time, the script was almost flipped, as the Sharks came out determined to make amends and give Graham a win in his milestone match.
For the first 10 minutes following the break, Canberra appeared to remain in control.
However, a few clumsy errors came as the Raiders looked to move the ball around, a diversion from having their middle forwards roll up the field that proved effective in the first half.
“We turned the ball over far too many times and got a bit like Cronulla in the first half,” Stuart said.
“We turned it into a real gritty match … It was never going to be an attractive game, it was just a gritty, s****y affair.”
Cronulla quickly capitalised when fullback Will Kennedy got onto the end of a perfectly weighted Townsend grubber to score in the 54th minute.
From there on until virtually the end of the match, the Raiders defence held up in the face of a barrage of attack from the Sharks, only conceding an opportunistic try to Josh Dugan in the 72nd minute.
It was a combination of sloppy handling errors and ill-discipline from Canberra that kept the Sharks in the match, but in the end the Raiders’ almost water-tight defence held out to take the two points.
Stuart praised his left-edge of Elliott Whitehead, Jack Wighton, Kris and Jordan Rapana for getting through a mountain of defensive work in the second stanza.
“Cronulla are a very good attacking team and even in those conditions they had a lot of football in the second half and field position, and we kept turning them away,” he said.
In NRL round 3, the Raiders host the Warriors at GIO Stadium, Saturday 27 March 3pm; buy tickets here.