Three brilliant tries provided some consolation for the Canberra Raiders on a night where the side was convincingly outplayed by the South Sydney Rabbitohs, with the Raiders going down 34-18 in front of a 9,526 strong crowd at GIO Stadium.
A Sami Sauiluma try provided the soul highlight for the Raiders before two late tries in the dying moments of the game gave the Raiders faithful something to cheer about. Not even injuries to Sam Burgess and John Sutton was enough to slowdown the Rabbitohs who were just too good in attack.
There was some moments of individual brilliance from the Raiders and Terry Campese at times showed a smart kicking game, and a great passing game. But again it wasn’t the Raiders possession that hurt them but a lack of quality finishing in crucial moments that was the Raiders undoing.
Canberra started the game brightly off the back of two penalties, in an interesting move Campese opted to take the points on the second penalty and Jarrod Croker made no errors with the penalty to give the Raiders an early 2-0 lead in the 3rd minute.
The Rabbitohs then took the lead despite the Raiders bright start when Dylan Walker crossed in the corner. The conversion attempt from Adam Reynolds was waved away leaving the Rabbitohs with a 4-2 lead. John Sutton left the field following the try lasting just nine minutes for Souths.
The Raiders were then caught short on the left side again with Alex Johnston able to gather a cross-field chip and score in the corner unmarked. Reynolds had his conversion waved away with this attempt hitting the upright.
After a clever last play from Walker earned the Rabbitohs repeat sets on the line, Campese made a captain’s play with an outstanding drop out that forced an error from the Rabbitohs. The Raiders then got the penalty for an accidental offside, the chance was lost though when David Shillington tried to offload before losing the ball 20 metres out.
South Sydney was then piggy backed down the field via a penalty, some good defence from the Raiders was able to hold out attempts from George Burgess and Greg Inglis, but an error from Reece Robinson on the last tackle kick gave Souths another chance at the Raiders’ line.
It proved costly when a nice backline play off the scrum led to a try to Bryson Goodwin in the corner. Lucky for the Raiders Reynolds left his kicking boots at home missing another conversion with the Rabbitohs taking a 12-2 lead after 29 minutes.
After consecutive sets on the Rabbitohs line an error from Paul Vaughan released the pressure on Souths, however the Raiders were unlucky not to receive a penalty from the Rabbitohs continuing to slow the play the ball down.
It wasn’t a great few minutes leading into half time by Josh McCrone with the Raiders half back attempting a chip kick which was fielded in the Raiders own half by Isaac Luke, then on the next set looking to play an inside ball before knocking it on.
Some scrapping defence from the Raiders ensured that they didn’t concede another try right on half time with the Rabbitohs taking a 12-2 lead into the half time break. Shillington vowed to take it up to the Souths forwards and he was the Raiders leading metre gainer with 72m from nine runs at half time.
Shaun Fensom continued his outstanding tackling display with 32 tackles leading everyone on the ground at half time. It was also noticeable that the Raiders were attempting to spread the ball more in attack with Croker getting noticeably more ball after being starved of opportunities last week.
The Rabbitohs started the 2nd half the better when Walker was able to jump on a loose ball, grubber ahead and rather than taking it dead Milford jumped over the ball and Walker was able to gather the loose ball and score a centimetre perfect try. Reynolds was having a tough night with the boot and missed again from the sideline.
McCrone was able to spark the Raiders when he found Josh Papalii a gaping hole, it looked like the Raiders were going to score but the pass to Kurt Baptiste just stopped the hookers momentum too much.
The Raiders then got a repeat set and following a nice cut out ball from Campese, Sauiluma was able to beat a number of defenders and then dive in the corner to score one of the tries of the season. Croker’s conversion was unsuccessful but the Raiders had life down 16-6 after 56 minutes.
Ben Te’o was then placed on report and the Raiders could sense a try in the offing with both Sutton and Sam Burgess off with injuries, and they nearly got one if not for some scrambling defence that kept the Rabbitohs lead at an arm’s length.
But after all the chances in the world for the Raiders, three quick tries to the Rabbitohs snuffed any chance of a comeback out for the Raiders, taking their lead to a dominant 28 points with the score line sitting at 34-6.
A brilliant effort from Reece Robinson then saw a brilliant try to Croker. The flying winger was able to find McCrone on the inside with a looping pass following a break, the halfback then grubbered for Croker who was able to gather the loose ball and score next to the posts. He converted his own try to give the Raiders a respectable score line.
They weren’t going to die wondering when Milford then broke the line and scored in the dying moments of the game. Croker converted the try to bring the score line back to 34-18 at full time.
Josh Papalii was named man of the match with 142 run metres, 5 tackle breaks and 25 tackles in a return to form for the big Queenslander. The Raiders return to GIO Stadium next weekend to take on the New Zealand Warriors.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 34
Tries: Walker 2, Goodwin 2, Reynolds 2, Johnston; Reynolds 3 Goals
Canberra Raiders 18
Tries: Sauiluma, Croker, Milford; Croker 3 Goals