The Sharks 16-game undefeated streak is over. A brilliant Raiders outfit dispatched the Sharks 30-14 at Southern Cross Stadium tonight. The win was the Raiders ninth in ten matches and keeps them in third spot on the NRL ladder.
No late changes were made to the Raiders side for the clash, while the Sharks were hit with a late blow when Michael Ennis was ruled out through illness. Ex-Raider Matt McIlwrick replaced him at hooker.
An early handling error by Blake Austin off a Junior Paulo offload gifted the Sharks favourable field position. A penalty in front to the home side saw them opt to go for the two points, with Maloney making no mistake and nabbing the Sharks an early 2-0 lead.
It was almost a horror start for Raiders moments later, when Brenko Lee slipped and coughed up a grubber straight into the hands of the Sharks for a potential try. Luck was on the Raiders side and the bunker ruled a no try due to the Sharks being offside.
The Raiders started to find their groove 10 minutes into the game, helped by a couple of Sharks penalties that marched them down the field. A precise last tackle kick by Aidan Sezer was stolen in the air by Jordan Rapana who managed to plant it down for the Raiders first. Despite plenty of jeers from the hostile Sharks crowd, Jarrod Croker nailed the difficult sideline conversion.
Ill-discipline cost the Raiders soon after, with a series of penalties helping the Sharks move down the field. James Maloney took advantage of space on the left edge to slide across for the Sharks first. A successful conversion saw the Sharks regain the lead.
A high shot on Andrew Fifita by Joey Leilua on the restart gifted the Sharks another penalty. The Raiders defence held stout as the Sharks threw everything they could at the Raiders line.
The momentum of the match changed dramatically on the next set. Finding themselves threatening the Sharks line for only the second time of the night, a quick-fire pass by Josh Hodgson out of dummyhalf saw Jack Wighton crash across the line.
On the ensuing set after the restart, Josh Hodgson was again creating havoc. Finding space around the markers Hodgson burst through the Sharks line. With Austin on his inside, Hodgson opted to instead go for the grubber which was grounded by a flying Rapana for his second of the night.
Finding easy metres with every carry, the Raiders were again threatening the Sharks line. A penalty in front proved too good to resist, and Croker made no mistake to extend the Raiders lead to 20-8.
The score remained the same heading into the break, despite the Sharks best efforts on a few late attacking raids.
It was the home side that came out firing to start the second-half, forcing an early line dropout for the Raiders. In a sign of the improvements the Raiders have made defensively this season, the Sharks were unable to cross despite the perfect field position.
Bouncing out of their half the Raiders extended their lead out to two converted tries when Croker added another two from a penalty.
Croker was soon called up for action at the opposite end of the field, making a desperate tackle on Wade Graham that prevented a certain Sharks try.
An error by the Raiders working it out of their half provided the Sharks with an opportunity straight away to make amends. A scrappy last tackle option turned into points for the home side, with captain Gallen scooping up a loose ball and barging over.
It took a moment of brilliance by Blake Austin to snuff out any chances of a late Sharks comeback. With his trademark dummy and step Austin scythed through the Sharks line to find himself one-on-one with Barba at the back. Somehow, Austin found his way to line despite the best efforts of Barba. The try came at a cost for Austin, who left the field straight after with an apparent shoulder injury. Croker converted to push the Raiders lead back out to 14 points, 28-14.
The Sharks wouldn’t go down easily, with Barba and Valentine Holmes both looking threatening. Two brutal tackles by Raiders fullback Wighton stopped the Sharks on both occasions. Bouncing straight back out of their half it was the Raiders who extended their lead once more through another penalty goal to Croker.
The Sharks threw the ball around in the final ten minutes, however the Raiders defence was able to meet everything thrown at them and held on for a fantastic 30-14 win.
Next up for the Raiders is another brutal test, hosting the Melbourne Storm at GIO Stadium next Monday night (August 15).
Canberra Raiders 30 ( Rapana 2, Wighton, Austin .Croker 4/4, 3 pen ) defeated Cronulla Sharks 14 ( Maloney, Gallen. Maloney 2/2 . 1 pen )
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