Sam Williams kicked the winning field goal as the Canberra Raiders won a 21-20 thriller against the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium.
Despite trailing for most of the match, the Raiders dug deep to recover from a poor first half to snatch a vital win.
The Raiders couldn’t have hoped for a worse start when Shaun Fensom was forced off the field in the first minute with concussion.
The Roosters dominated the early stages of the match and took the lead in the 6th minute of the game when Latrell Mitchell forced his way over the line after a set play from a scrum. The fullback couldn’t convert his try but scored two penalty goals to give the Tricolours an 8-0 lead.
Despite rarely seeing the ball in the first half, the Raiders roared back into contention with an exhilarating passage of play.
Former Rooster Sia Soliola barged his way over the try line to get the Raiders on the scoreboard for the afternoon. Captain, Jarrod Croker, duly converted the try to bring the Raiders within two points.
Minutes later, Sam Williams, brought in to replace injured halfback Aidan Sezer, looked to have scored only minutes later when looked to have grounded the ball off his own grubber kick only to be ruled to have his legs over the dead ball line.
Having completed 81 more tackles than their counterparts, the workload in the afternoon heat paid its toll as the Roosters scored twice before halftime.
The Roosters managed to get on the front foot again with former Raider Blake Ferguson scoring in the right-hand corner.
Aidan Guerra then made it 16-6 to the Roosters when debutant Lachlan Croker couldn’t gather an awkward kick. Attempting to recover from the error, Croker injured himself making a tackle and had to go off with two minutes remaining in the half.
Despite being two men down, the Raiders came out firing in the second half. Hodgson, moving into the halves, kicked high in the corner for Jarrod Croker. The Captain passed it to oncoming second rower Josh Papalii who scored in the corner.
Fifteen minutes later, the Queensland second rower had his second when Baptiste found him with a smart pass from dummy half. Man of the match, Papalii was too strong for the Rooster defence but Croker missed the conversion to bring the scores level.
Just as the Raiders were starting to dominate play, Roosters five-eighth Jayden Nikorima wove his way through the Raiders defence to score.
With a little over a quarter of an hour left, the Raiders were dealt a blow when Leilua was sent to the sin-bin for punching Dylan Napa. The incident occurred after the centre was tackled high by the Rooster forward.
Despite having Fensom and Lachlan Croker off injured and Leilua in the sin bin, the Raiders dug deep to stay in the game. Their hard work was rewarded when Jarrod Croker beat three defenders to score in the left-hand corner. The captain then showed his nerve, coolly slotting the ball between the sticks to level the scores at 20-20 with eight minutes remaining.
With Leilua back on the field, makeshift five-eight Josh Hodgson produced a much needed forty- twenty. The Green Machine didn’t waste their opportunity with Sam Williams kicking the field goal, putting the Raiders ahead for the first time three minutes from time.
The Roosters restart didn’t travel the required ten metres before bouncing out of play giving Canberra a full set in the Rooster’s half. The Roosters had one more chance at the Raiders’ try line but the Green Machine held their nerve to win 21-20.
Raiders 21 (Papalii 2, Soliola, J. Croker Con J.Croker 2/4 Field Goal William) defeated Roosters 20 (Mitchell, Ferguson, Guerra Nikorima Con Mitchell 0/4 Pen 2/2)