The Canberra Raiders have delivered a thoroughly impressive performance in their first trial for 2014, triumphing 20-12 over the Melbourne Storm in scorching conditions at AAMI Park.
Despite Canberra’s line-up featuring many of the club’s brightest young rookies, the Green Machine matched a Storm side featuring regular first graders Justin O’Neill, Matt Duffie and Kevin Proctor blow for blow before eventually prevailing in the final stanza.
The match was played in four 20 minute quarters due to the extreme heat and witnessed by a solid crowd of Storm diehards.
Despite being tackled over the sideline during their first set, the Raiders regained possession the following set through some inspired defence.
Canberra then drew first blood through powerful winger and new recruit Mosese Pangai who was able to get on the outside of his man due to a swift pass by Jack Wighton, who was playing in his favoured role of five-eighth.
Reece Robinson’s conversion went astray but the Raiders confidence grew as a result of the try.
Great kicks by Mitch Cornish, Josh McCrone and Wighton reaped many repeat sets for the Raiders however they were unable to further capitalise.
The Storm then hit back through barnstorming back-rower Kevin Proctor who stepped through Canberra’s defence on the right hand edge before stepping Robinson to level scores. The scores would remain at four all for the reminder of the first quarter.
Canberra were the dominant side in the second stanza however the Raiders failed to register any points despite dominating both field position and possession of the football. Staunch defence by the side entailed that the Storm didn’t register anymore points either and thus scores remained at four all at halftime.
Despite a few hiccups in his play from time to time, Cornish proved the catalyst for the Raiders to regain the lead after sparking a movement which resulted in winger Jordan Rapana crossing on the left hand touchline.
This lead was shortly lived however after Storm winger Young Tonumaipea latched onto a Ben Roberts cross-field kick to level the scores at eight points apiece.
Melbourne then hit the lead for the first time in the match after outside back after Hymel Hunt finished off fine lead up play from Roberts and Garbutt. The Storm would hold onto the 12-8 lead as the third quarter drew to a close.
The Raiders line-up in the final quarter featured highly promising prospects such as Cornish at halfback, Jack Ahearn at five-eighth, Andrew Heffernan at fullback and Brenko Lee in the centres and all four were instrumental in sealing a win for the Green Machine.
Ahearn made his impact heavily felt when he brilliantly regathered a grubber kick by Heffernan to score underneath the uprights. Cornish then converted to give the Raiders a slender two point lead over the Storm.
After scoring a great try, Ahearn then created a similarly terrific try for the powerful Lee. Sensing the Storm were short on numbers on the right hand edge, Ahearn threw a sublime cut out pass to Lee who proved too good for the converging defenders. Cornish’s conversion sealed the win for the Green Machine.
Coach Ricky Stuart and his coaching staff will be pleased with the display from the side and especially with the experiment of McCrone at hooker and the performances of Cornish and Wighton in the halves however they will not be getting too carried away as there is still plenty of improvement left in the Raiders’ play.