A late Jordan Rapana try has elevated the Canberra Raiders to a thrilling 22-16 win over the Parramatta Eels to make captain Jarrod Croker’s 200th NRL appearance one to savour at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
With scores locked at 16-apiece just seven minutes out from full-time, the Kiwi international collected a Jack Wighton cut-out pass to cross on the right edge.
Rapana had gone tantalisingly close when he was denied by the bunker after crossing the line on the back of a frantic second phase play. However, the Kiwi international put his disappointment aside to come up with the match winner.
Rapana was one of the best on the park for the Raiders, churning out 173 metres to complement his last-gasp four-pointer and help propel the men in green back into the top eight.
Meanwhile, linchpin second-row Josh Papalii showed no rust in his first match back from suspension as he amassed 171 metres, made 30 tackles and constantly tested Parramatta’s line with darting runs.
The Raiders drew first blood three minutes in when blossoming winger Nick Cotric collected a Wighton cut-out to cross on the left edge before Croker failed to convert.
Cotric then very nearly bagged his second try 15 minutes in off the back of a monstrous Canberra march up-field, the 18-year-old hunting a Josh Hodgson grubber that would take a wicked turn.
New South Wales hopeful Joey Leilua snared the Raiders’ second four-pointer, the Samoa representative bustled through the right edge on the back of clever work from the English rake.
It was a series of slick passes that blazed the trail of destruction for the rampant Raiders, Papalii bursting onto an Aidan Sezer short-ball before offloading to a rocketing Wighton.
The men in green capitalised in the following play before Croker banged the ball over the black dot to hand Canberra a 10-0 lead.
But the Eels then picked the Raiders’ lock in the 34th minute, second-row Manu Ma’u putting a ricocheting grubber to boot on the left edge before recollecting the Steeden off a Beau Scott basketball pass to race away.
Clint Gutherson failed to convert but the hosts would waste no time in locking things up at 10-apiece ahead of the half-time break, Michael Jennings icing a fleet-footed Semi Radradra frolic before Gutherson made no mistake with his second chance at the tee.
Off the back of a glut of possession, optimal field territory and costly Canberra errors, Parramatta took the lead eight minutes into the second stanza through Siosaia Vave.
Gutherson added the extras as the hosts took a 16-10 lead.
But the Green Machine then hit back in the 56th minute in a lively left-edge play ignited by milestone-man Croker, the skipper slicing through to set up a bulleting Blake Austin on the inside.
Croker made no mistake off the boot to square things up at 16-all.
It’s the exhilarating attack of Ricky Stuart’s men that draws the endless superlatives, but a desperate defensive scrap 65 minutes into the contest denied the Eels of again slipping in front.
Parramatta fullback Bevan French tore up-field in pursuit of a long-range Jennings grubber, but Wighton would put water on the fire.
Rapana’s denied try then followed before the try-hungry winger sealed a four-pointer the referees liked the look of in the death as the Raiders arrested a three-game losing streak.