Despite injuries and external talk of being certainties for the wooden spoon the Canberra Raiders have won their second game in a row by defeating the Wests Tigers 27-12 in entertaining fashion at GIO Stadium.
It was a spirited win for the boys who looked to have controlled the match for much of the game and despite only leading by 12-0 at the half the side completed an incredible 17 of 18 first half sets at 94% efficiency.
The side is now undefeated since Jarrod Croker was given the captaincy and he was again terrific tonight. Jack Wighton looks at home in the full back position and Mitchell Cornish looked good in his run on debut.
Josh Papalii was named man of the match and had another terrific game the new father has found the form that made him a Queensland and Australian representative previously. His stat line for tonight was 119 metres, six tackle busts and 20 tackles and one line break.
A pre-planned move saw Edrick Lee swap from the left wing to right centre. It worked perfectly as with the first chance of the game Mitch Cornish found Lee with a cross field kick with the high flyer able to set up Bill Tupou for the first try of the night. Croker converted the try to take the Raiders out to a 6-0 lead after four minutes.
With the Tigers again short on their left edge defence Anthony Milford nearly found Tupou unmarked with a cross field kick, but the kick was just too long in the end. Dane Tilse then stopped a rampant Robbie Farah who looked certain to score under the posts.
The pressure was then relieved through a Tigers error ten metres from the try line. Canberra was relentless in both attack and defence and were probably unlucky to have not put more than one try on the board after the first 20 minutes.
Glen Buttris looked to have extended the lead but the last pass from Lee was ruled to have gone forward. Robbie Farah looked to have sparked his side with a 40/20 but another error from the Tigers released the pressure once again.
In his run on debut Cornish was showing all the qualities that have been talked about him since he was in the Holden Cup side. He set up the Raiders next try with a beautiful pass to find Jack Wighton running straight through a gap in the defence. Croker converted the try to extend the lead to 12 in the shadows of half time.
Wighton who has looked at home in the fullback position got the second half off to a flying start when he made a break to get the side over halfway. Milford finished off the set with a clever grubber that allowed the Raiders a repeat set.
Cornish again kicked high for Lee but he was unable to get a run at the ball. The Tigers then got the opportunity down the opposite end of the field, but again the Raiders resembled a brick wall in defence with the Tigers unable to get anything going in attack.
After getting piggybacked down the field the Tigers then hit back through Blake Austin who managed to get through a hole in the defence. Pat Richards converted the try to bring the margin back to one converted try in the 58th minute.
It brought the Tigers to life but again their errors were costing them, Milford put in a cheeky chip kick behind the defence which exposed Jy Hitchox with the young fullback knocking on. Milford won the Raiders a penalty with Croker opting to take the two points.
He converted the penalty to give the Raiders a 14-6 lead with 18 minutes to go. An error from Milford off the kick off gifted the Tigers a chance to score. They made the Raiders pay with Martin Taupau scoring next to the posts. Richards converted the try to bring the Raiders lead back to two points.
It was tit for tat then with the Tigers then having an error coming out of their own half. Milford made up for the earlier error by setting up a rampaging Papalii out wide. Croker converted the try to take the Raiders lead out to eight with 12 minutes to go.
It was becoming a nightmare for the restarts with Lee then misjudging a kick off and knocking it on. Lee like Milford made up for his error by getting the ball back off a poor Richards pass.
Austin looked like he was going to make it a grandstand finish before losing the ball as he was about to score. Milford then made a mockery of the Tigers defence before hitting a sweet field goal.
To add salt in the wounds Croker was able to find Tupou who made a break, Glenn Buttriss could’ve got off the nudie run list with a try, but he opted to instead give it to Milford who kicked the ball high into the crowd in celebration.
Croker converted the try after the siren to take a 4 point lead as the NRL leading point scorer and take the Raiders out to a comfortable 27-12 victory.
The Raiders will be looking to get plenty of support next week as they attempt to win three in a row against the Parramatta Eels.
Canberra Raiders 27
Tries: Tupou, Wighton, Papalii, Milford; Croker 5 goals
Field goals: Milford
Wests Tigers 12
Tries: Austin, Taupau; Richards 2 goals