The Raiders unbeaten start to 2016 is over after a John Olive try in the final two minutes has given the Gold Coast Titans a 24-20 win in Canberra.
The loss will be a tough one for Ricky Stuart’s side to swallow, having led all match only for the Titans to score two tries in the final six minutes to snatch victory. The Raiders even held a 20-6 lead with 15 minutes to play, and will no doubt be dirty that the Gold Coast comeback was sparked by a try to Raiders old boy, Dave Shillington.
The Titans started well, with Ashley Taylor peppering the Raiders defensive right early, but two bombs were easily defused by Jack Wighton and Brenko Lee. Two penalties to the home side in the opening five minutes had the Raiders in good field position, with front rower Shannon Boyd steamrolling Titans defenders with his powerful running.
It took ten minutes for either side to have a genuine try-scoring opportunity, and it was the home side who drew first points. Raiders captain Jarrod Croker grabbed the first try after nine minutes, rewarded for his run supporting Sam Williams, who was excellent throughout, after the halfback sliced through the Titans defensive line.
With the Titans putting the ensuing kick-off out on the full, it didn’t take long for the home side to score their second try in quick succession. After taking the ball 30 metres out from the Titans line, the Raiders marched down inside the 10, where Josh Hodgson scampered out of dummy half, threw a show and go, before popping a pass to makeshift five eighth Elliott Whitehead to plunge over for his first NRL try and a quick-fire 12-0 lead.
Canberra were rolling, and a constant threat to score every time they touched the ball, with Josh Papalii and then Paul Vaughan held up in goal as the half wore on.
Stand in Titans skipper Ryan James eventually got his team on the board, scoring a try for the third consecutive game, waltzing through a huge gap in the Raiders defensive line.
But the Raiders soon restored their two try advantage, as an attacking run from Hodgson saw the hooker break through the middle of the park, draw the attention of Titans fullback David Mead, before laying on a clear run to the try line for Edrick Lee. It was nothing more than the Raiders first half performance merited, as they would have been disappointed to go in at halftime having only managed two tries.
18-6 down at the break, the Titans were probably happy it wasn’t more as they turned in a first-half performance full of poor ball security, handling errors, and too many penalties.
Gold Coast made a much better start to the second half, pinning the Raiders against their goal line and dominating the field position in the early exchanges. However, Neil Henry’s men weren’t able convert this fast start into points, with backrower Chris McQueen eventually putting a bomb out over the dead ball line.
Despite the start, it was the Raiders on the board first in the second stanza through a Croker penalty goal, after more indiscipline from the visitors allowed Canberra to march down the field thanks to back-to-back penalties.
It looked like the Titans would come home with a wet sail just like they did against the Tigers last week, as they grabbed the first try of the second half with 15 minutes left to play. It was Shillington, the target of a few boos from the home support throughout, who crashed through two would be tackles after taking a quick tap 20 metres out.
And 11,039 Canberra fans were handed a nervy finish, as a Zeb Taia try and Taylor conversion made the score 20-18 with less than five minutes to play.
Despite the late show, the Raiders still looked like they had done enough to secure the two points. But the Titans had one final chance, spinning the ball to the left edge for Olive to power over. The home fans wanted the ref to rule that the barnstorming centre was held up, but the video ref’s decision came back green, and the Titans hung on for a miraculous win.
Canberra Raiders 20 (Croker, Whitehead, E. Lee tries, Croker 4 goals) defeated by Gold Coast Titans 24 (James, Shillington, Taia tries, Roberts, Taylor 2 goals)