Aidan Sezer inspired the Canberra Raiders to a perfect start in 2016 with a stunning 30-22 win over the Penrith Panthers at GIO Stadium today.
Two tries to the Raiders import laid the foundations for a brilliant victory, with a couple of Jarrod Croker penalty goals and a late try to workhorse Shaun Fensom all that could separate the two sides in 35 degree heat.
In more concerning news, five-eighth Blake Austin limped from the field early in the second-half with a knee injury in front of a crowd of 11,297.
Edrick Lee opened the account for the Green Machine in 2016 with a try, before Croker slotted the conversion attempt from the left-hand touchline to give the hosts a 6-2 lead after nine minutes.
A late call-up to the starting side, energetic playmaker Austin scored the side’s second try in the 18th minute, before Croker’s conversion bounced in off the upright to stretch the margin to ten.
Penrith struck back just four minutes later through new recruit Trent Merrin, with Jamie Soward adding the extras to bring the score to 12-8 in favour of the home side.
Aidan Sezer impressed in his Raiders debut, finding himself on the end of some Croker magic to notch up his first try in green in the 26th minute.
The ensuing kick-off went dead on the full, giving the Raiders another chance in Penrith’s half. Centre Joey Leilua nearly made the most of the opportunity, slamming the ball down in the corner only to be denied by the Bunker.
The Raiders were relentless in attack in the opening stanza, but it was Penrith who had the last laugh going into the break. Peta Hiku was on the end of an overlap to score a converted try for the visitors, before Soward slotted a penalty goal to level the scores.
Returning to the paddock with the scores locked at 16-all, the hosts were forced to repel the Penrith attack, before the Panthers found a crack in the line as Josh Mansour crossed in the 46th minute.
Now trailing by 6 with Austin off the field, the Raiders looked to lethal hooker Josh Hodgson and Sezer to spark the attack, and they delivered. Hodgson sent the ball to Sezer, who weaved his way through three defenders to score his second try.
A Jarrod Croker penalty goal edged the Raiders ahead 24-22 with twelve minutes remaining, before a penalty in front of the posts gave Croker the chance to increase the margin to four.
A last-ditch effort from Penrith had the crowd on the edge of their seats, before Fensom swooped on a loose ball to give the hosts possession. The man of the moment crossed just a few plays later to seal a thrilling victory.
The Raiders will look to make it two on the trot next week against the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium.
Canberra Raiders 30 (Sezer 2, Lee, Austin, Fensom tries; Croker 5 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 22 (Merrin, Hiku, Mansour; Soward 5 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 11,297.