That’s how long it’s been since the Canberra Raiders have been in the top four this deep in the competition. That is, until today.
The thirteen-year drought has ended after a Jarrod Croker try in golden point toppled the New Zealand Warriors 26-22 in a thrilling finish at GIO Stadium to move into fourth on the NRL ladder.
Canberra’s fourth straight win looked as though it may not come to fruition after a 22-6 lead with ten minutes remaining was squandered and the game was sent to extra-time.
The second home game in the last three weeks to go into golden point looked like it would have the same match winner as Jordan Rapana busted through the Warriors defence. It wasn’t to be, as hat-trick hero Croker snared the decisive four-pointer after an Issac Luke conversion from the sideline sent the game into overtime.
Notorious for their second-phase play, the Warriors made early inroads in the Canberra defence, before Shaun Johnson linked up with David Fusitu’a to send the flying fullback over the line.
The Bunker intervened and ruled Raiders half Aidan Sezer had been impeded in the play, and no try was called. Despite the let off, there was no respite in sight for the hosts.
With his side enjoying generous field position in the early going, Johnson was free to weave his magic as the dangerous Warriors outfit eventually drew first blood on the left-hand edge.
In one of the most highly-anticipated wing battles this season, Manu Vatuvei got the better of Rapana early on, juggling the ball before diving over in front of a legion of travelling Warriors fans. Issac Luke’s conversion attempt fell short, and the visitors held a four-point lead.
A seemingly controversial scrum feed went the way of the Warriors in the dying stages of the first half – much to the annoyance of the home crowd – and the hosts were awoken from their slumber.
An error was forced off the ensuing set, ultimately leading to a Croker try from a perfect Sezer grubber kick. The skipper added the extras and the Raiders took a two-point lead.
It was another piece of Croker brilliance that set up Canberra’s second try, as the Goulburn product regathered his own kick and sent Joseph Tapine hurtling over the try line. Croker’s conversion saw the hosts take a 12-4 lead into the break.
Neither side troubled the scorers in the opening twenty minutes of the second half in a seesawing battle, until inspirational skipper Croker scored his second try to add four more points to the tally.
With the match still hanging in the balance with thirteen minutes remaining, Joseph Leilua split the Warriors’ defence to give the hosts a seemingly insurmountable lead. The number four had put the Raiders into the top four.
Thomas Leuluai cut through the Canberra defence to score two tries in three minutes, with Luke nailing both conversions to set up a grandstand finish, as the Raiders led 22-16 with less than seven minutes left.
The Warriors added one more try through Fusitu’a with sixty-seven seconds left, which Luke duly converted from the sideline to send the game into golden point.
The win marked a fairy tale start for debutant Adam Clydsdale, who became Raider number 340 after being presented his jersey by club great Quentin Pongia before the match.
The Raiders now look towards next Sunday’s date with South Sydney, where a win could see the side move to third on the table should Melbourne beat North Queensland on Saturday night.
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