The Canberra Raiders will head back to GIO Stadium next week hopeful of completing back-to-back victories following a come from behind 22-12 victory against the Cronulla Sharks this afternoon.
It was a spirited effort with pride and avoiding the club’s first ever wooden spoon the main motivator in the victory.
Anthony Milford was superb in the second half and really lifted when the side needed him, and when Jack Wighton injected himself into the game he looked dangerous playing out of the fullback position.
Jeremy Hawkins was another debutant for the club and battled manfully throughout the afternoon, it wasn’t an easy game for the Raiders despite facing a undermanned Sharks outfit.
Our early undisciplined play gave the Sharks multiple opportunities to put points on the board early, but some great defence saw the Raiders survive the early raid from the Sharks.
Dane Tilse then had the Raiders best chance of the first half and looked to charge over the try line but he was unable to get the ball down. The Raiders were making good metres up the middle of the ground thanks to a handy size advantage, but they were unable to post any points with errors riddling their gameplay.
The game ebbed and flow with momentum changing hands and the Sharks threatened again but it was Wighton who was able to release the pressure with a break, the pressure was then placed on the Sharks but the Raiders were unable to make the most of their field position.
The first half was becoming a titanic struggle for both sides with points being at an absolute premium. Sosaia Feki had a hand of luck when he was able to gather the loose ball and score on the back of a Blake Ayshford break.
Michael Gordon converted the try to give the Sharks a 6-0 lead after 38 minutes. Cronulla had the last chance to extend their lead before the break, but some good defence close to the line denied Feki right on the stroke of half time.
It was a flat start to the second half from both sides, but a chance was given to the Raiders off the back of two penalties and they took it when Milford found Matt McIlwrick with a perfectly weighted grubber.
McIlwrick scored the try and when Croker converted the try the home crowd was silent as a lull ran around the ground.
The boys were buoyed by the momentum and Wighton injected himself into the attack with a strong run close to the line. Milford again caught the Sharks defenders napping when he found Croker unmarked on the wing to give the Raiders the lead.
Croker was unsuccessful with the conversion but it was the first time we had taken the lead all day. It didn’t look like it was going to last long when Jonathan Wright was given a certain opportunity to score only before losing it under no pressure at all.
Something had to give in the game and it did when Edrick lee found Croker on his outside, he then raced away before offloading on his inside for Milford who managed to control the ball under pressure and score under the posts.
Croker converted the try to give the Raiders a 16-6 lead with just 20 minutes to go. Mitchell Cornish finished the next set up with a perfectly weighted kick, our boys had lifted and three of them were there to drag Valentine Holmes back over the try line to force a repeat set.
Jono Wright was then placed on report for a lifting tackle on Croker, the pressure on the Sharks was let off through an error on the next set. It proved costly as Tim Robinson was able to cut the lead back to a converted try. Gordon converted the try to bring the Raiders lead back to four with 13 minutes to go.
An error coming out of their own half gave the Raiders a chance with good field position, Cornish was able to then find Milford for his second try of the afternoon with a perfectly weighted grubber.
It was an almost identical play to the McIlwrick try and it was causing the Sharks headaches. Croker converted the try to give the Raiders a 22-12 lead with ten minutes to play.
Fa'amanu Brown then went down with just over three minutes to go in the game with what looked to be a serious leg injury.
Neither side was able to add to their tally with the match ending in a ten point win for our boys. They will be keen to get back home next week and score back-to-back victories when they face the Wests Tigers late on Saturday afternoon.
Canberra Raiders 22
Tries: Milford 2, McIlwrick, Croker; Croker 3 Goals
Cronulla Sharks 12
Tries: Feki, Robinson; Gordon 2 goals