Jack Wighton scored two first half tries to lead the Canberra Raiders to a 36-16 win over the Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast this afternoon.
The win was set up with a burst of tries in the first half and keeps the Raiders in the hunt for that all-important top four finish.
Ash Taylor was a late out for the Titans, with Tanah Boyd earning a start at five-eighth in his absence, while the Raiders opted to change their starting middle forwards with Josh Papalii, Dunamis Lui and Hudson Young all shifting to the bench for Ryan Sutton, Corey Harawira-Naera and Joe Tapine.
The Titans were the first to get on the board after a grubber from Tanah Boyd took a wicked bounce away from Nick Cotric and Philip Sami pounced on the ball to give the Titans a 4-0 lead after 13 minutes.
The Raiders wasted no time in hitting back after a six again ruling gifted them field position and a perfect pass from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad saw Cotric score in the corner to level the scores at 4-4 after 18 minutes.
It only took six minutes for the Raiders next try with Wighton orchestrating a sensational wrap around move with Elliott Whitehead that put Jordan Rapana in space down the wing. Rapana then found Wighton back on the inside to give the Raiders their first lead of the match at 10-4.
Wighton had his second try in the space of five minutes after a big left foot step gave him enough space to power over and extend the Raiders lead to 16-4 after 28 minutes.
Tom Starling had only been on the field for a matter minutes before he darted over from dummy half close to the line to score his maiden NRL try and give the Raiders a comfortable 22-4 lead at half time.
Ricky Stuart’s change of middle forwards worked well with Sutton, Harawira-Naera and Tapine all putting in strong first half performances.
The highlight of the match came 10 minutes into the second half with Titans halfback Jamal Fogarty taking a quick tap from a 20 metre restart and racing away down field.
Fogarty got rid of Starling and looked in the clear with only a front rower in pursuit. Unfortunately for Fogarty, that front rower chsing was Josh Papalii and just as Fogarty looked clear, Papalii lunged and delivered a perfect ankle tap that sent Fogarty falling to the ground and losing the ball.
All the Raiders players then congratulated Papalii for his effort as he desperately tried to suck in some oxygen, but the play summed up Papalii and the Raiders never say die attitude.
However, the Titans managed to score only a few minutes later as a lovely ball from Fogarty found fullback Alex Brimson and he crossed over to bring to make it to 22-10 after 55 minutes.
The Raiders hit back quickly through Hudson Young who crashed over from close range, before Cotric scored the dagger after he intercepted a lazy pass from Sami for his second try of the night to give the Raiders a commanding 34-10 lead after 63 minutes.
The Titans scored a late try through Keegan Hipgrave and the Raiders added a late penalty goal to make the final margin 36-16 to the Raiders.
The Raiders had many contributors to the win with Cotric scoring two tries, Sutton running for a career-high 205 metres and Starling having a strong impact off the bench, but Ricky Stuart saved his praise for the performance of Wighton.
“I think Jack was our most consistent player in sticking to task,” Stuart said.
“He played direct, he played to the strategy and he played to the plan that we wanted to adopt.
“He never looked to lose the will to stick solid to a structured game of footy.
Stuart also had high praise for Papalii after he was asked about his spectacular ankle tap effort, saying he will go down as one of the greatest Raiders players ever.
“Josh Papalii showed with that ankle tap on that young half, in what should have been a try, he showed what this jumper is all about and the character these boys have inside them,” Stuart said.
“Papa will go down as one of our greatest players ever when he retires. He is one of the boys’ favourites. They love playing with him.
“I don’t underestimate anything Josh has got. He has got a wonderful motor. He is a very skilful guy for his size.
“I don’t say that lightly, but he will go down as one of those greats of this club. It is a very deserving accolade or piece of commentary because we have had some greats here.”