Against the might of the second placed Parramatta Eels, Canberra has succumbed to a 54-26 loss, although Coach Mick Mantelli has been heartened by the tremendous spirit shown by his side.
With the team struck down by several injuries coupled with the absence of star trio Luke Bateman, Andrew Heffernan and Patrick Mago, who were all selected to play for either Mounties or Souths Logan, the Raiders were always going to be facing an uphill battle against the Eels.
Parramatta are ranked as the second best attacking team in the competition and were in dangerous form having won three out of their last four encounters. The side is also littered with various junior representative stars including NSW Under 20’s players Ryan Matterson and Kaysa Pritchard.
Canberra didn't make it easy for themselves, starting the match extremely slowly and allowing the Eels to race out to an 18-0 lead after just seven minutes.
It wasn’t until a melee broke out midway through the first stanza that woke the talented, yet vastly inexperienced Raiders up.
“The Eels came out firing from the kick-off and raced ahead to an 18-0 lead early on which was disappointing,” Coach Mick Mantelli said.
“I think we were a bit shell shocked as a result of that and it want until a high shot by Kaysa Pritchard on young Charlie Mackenzie from a kick-off, followed by a scuffle, that woke us up.
“Mackenzie showed great courage to stay on the field after that hit and the boys really fired up after that and ripped in to fight their way back into the contest.”
Canberra’s fight back ensured that the Raiders would still be in the contest in the second half after they entered the sheds trailing 24-10.
Unfortunately Parramatta’s form, coupled with the sheer size of their team right across the park, proved too much for Canberra to handle in the second forty as the Eels advanced to a 28 point victory.
Whilst disappointed with the loss, Mantelli was proud of the effort shown by his young side and believes that the performance was an improvement on weeks gone by.
“Parramatta is one of the best teams in the Holden Cup and will be well in contention for the premiership this year. They showed why today,” Mantelli said.
“Although the scoreboard didn’t reflect it, the performance was an improvement on the last couple of weeks.
“They were a massive team from the backline to the forwards and we struggled to match them in that department.
“The effort was there and I thought that the boys really dug in, but we were just outclassed and out-muscled in the end. It’s a good learning curve for these young players moving forward.”
Mantelli reserved particular praise for one player.
“Mitchell Barnett was an absolute stand-out,” he enthused.
“He backed up from playing for Mounties in the NSW Cup the previous day and was inspirational. He started the match from the bench but but when he entered the field he really lifted the boys and led the way forward for us in attack and defence for the next 60 minutes."