Raiders v Sharks: Five key points
The Sharks maintained their incredible recent record in Canberra with a crushing 42-16 win over the Raiders. Wade Graham's hat-trick stole the headlines, while rookie Jayden Brailey confirmed his status as an NRL star-in-the-making.
Bird soars in new role
With Ben Barba playing French rugby and Valentine Holmes and Gerard Beale missing with hamstring injuries, the Sharks were forced to call upon fourth-choice fullback Jack Bird for the crucial custodian role. Any thoughts the backline reshuffle would hurt them were quickly put to bed with Bird playing a starring role in the crushing win. The 2015 Dally M rookie of the year looked at ease at the back, setting up a try and running for 113 metres on Saturday night. He had a try of his own rubbed out for obstruction and was strangely untested by any bombs from the Raiders.
Brailey comes of age
It's taken just two games for Jayden Brailey to confirm his status as an NRL-quality No.9. Keen observers of the Holden Cup knew what to expect from the highly-talented No.9, with the NYC player of the year producing the sort of football that had scouts tipping big things from him in 2017. Brailey continued to look rock-solid in defence with 22 tackles from 23 attempts, while he also supported his forwards through the middle to finish with 64 running metres. The highlight of his first road trip in the NRL came in the 47th minute when he backed up a break by veteran edge forward Luke Lewis to score his first try in the top grade. It was a special moment for Brailey who will only get better as the season progresses.
Battle of the benches utterly one-sided
A lot was made of the battle between the two starting packs, but it was the impact of Cronulla's bench that proved telling on Saturday night. Veteran big man Chris Heighington turned back the clock with 118 metres, bending the line back with every charge. Jayson Bukuya caused trouble on the edges with his footwork, Jeremy Latimore trundled through the middle, while Joseph Paulo came on late to set up a try with a kick out of dummy-half. In contrast, Canberra's reserves combined for just 71 metres and didn't provide the punch that was needed in the second stanza.
Wighton can hold his head high
An otherwise horror night for the home side was slightly tempered by the return of fullback Jack Wighton who was Canberra's shining light with a try in each half. Wighton missed the opening-round loss to the Cowboys through illness and made up for lost time with a powerful charge to score from a scrum in the 15th minute before he crossed for a consolation try at the death to give the score some semblance of respectability. Wighton finished with 198 metres, four tackle breaks and two line breaks and looks set to be a force in 2017.
Cronulla's home away from home
GIO Stadium might be a fortress for Canberra against most teams, but it's a venue that instils next to no fear amongst the current crop of Sharks. Cronulla have now won five on the trot in the nation's capital, including a crucial victory in the finals last year. Interestingly, the Raiders have won three straight at Southern Cross Group Stadium, rendering home round advantage meaningless in this developing rivalry.
This article first appeared on NRL.com
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