A young Canberra Raiders outfit have produced a stirring performance to down the Cronulla Sharks 38-28 at Netsrata Jubilee Stadium for their third straight win heading into finals.
With the Raiders missing a host of stars, Tom Starling stepped up with three try assists and a try of his own as the Raiders locked in a home elimination final against the Sharks next week.
The Raiders jumped out of the blocks quickly with Dunamis Lui crashing over from close range in just the fourth minute to give the Raiders a 6-0 lead.
The Sharks hit straight back through Ronaldo Mulitalo, but the conversion was unsuccessful, and the Raiders then clicked into gear with three tries in 8 minutes.
Captain Sam Williams put through a perfect grubber for Nick Cotric to score in the corner before Starling barged through some soft defence from dummy-half to score.
Starling then came up with the play of game from his own half as he sold a beautiful dummy and split the defence before putting through a perfect chip kick for Williams to score next to the posts as the Raiders lead ballooned out to 24-4 after just 28 minutes.
The Sharks responded with a much needed try through Briton Nikora to reduce the margin to 14 points at half time.
The Raiders came out of the break on fire again as Starling produce his third try assist to send Kai O’Donnell over for his first try in the NRL.
In his first game for the Raiders, local junior Matt Frawley then scored his first try for the club he grew up supporting after he threw a lovely dummy and fended off a couple of defenders to extend the Raiders lead to 34-10 after 50 minutes.
The Raiders looked in complete control with a commanding 24 points lead, but the Sharks scored two quick tries to reduce the deficit to just 12 points with 20 minutes remaining to provide some nervous moments for Raiders fans.
The Raiders then forced a goal line drop out from their kick off and the Sharks tried to go quickly to catch the Raiders napping, but Harley Smith-Shields was awake to it and went over untouched for his first try in the NRL.
Nikora scored his second try of the match to bring the Shakrs back to within ten points but the Raiders hung on top clinch the win.
The only negative for the Raiders out of the win was a knee injury to front rower Ryan Sutton who now looks likely to miss their finals campaign.
With so many players that haven’t played much footy this season, it was clear the win meant plenty to the Raiders as they belted out the team song with gusto.
The win meant the Raiders were a chance at finishing in the top four, but the Parramatta Eels dashed their hopes with a comeback victory over the Wests Tigers.
The Raiders will have their big guns rested and ready to go when they meet the Sharks again in an elimination final at 5.40pm Saturday 3 October at GIO Stadium.