A fresh-faced Canberra Raiders have defeated the Cronulla Sharks in comprehensive fashion with 38-28 victory, which temporarily moves them inside the top four.
Sam Williams led from the front as captain with a personal tally of 14 points, with the Raiders featuring six players from last year’s Jersey Flegg Grand Final and three debutants.
The win means the Raiders move into the top four momentarily as they wait for the result from the Parramatta game against the Wests Tigers, with an Eels loss giving the Raiders a double chance.
An error from the Sharks after a long kick from Matt Frawley allowed the Raiders a chance to draw first blood within the first five minutes and they would make no mistake.
Dunamis Lui would cap off his strong start to the game by barging over from close range via crash ball from Tom Starling. Stand-in captain Sam Williams would make no mistake with the conversion to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Cronulla would hit back almost immediately, Ronaldo Mulitalo looked to be held up in the process, but referee Ashley Klein referred the decision to the bunker where they would eventually rule it as a try. The subsequent conversion was waived away, and the scores remained 6-4 to the Raiders.
The Raiders almost extended their lead after a heroic play by Harley Smith-Shields to tap a grubber back into find an unmarked Semi Valemei, but it was overruled as Smith-Shields was already out.
The Raiders did not have to wait long after that to score, Williams saw the Cronulla winger off his wing and put in a perfect grubber where Nick Cotric would ground the ball for his 12th try of the season. Williams would add the extra two which gave the Raiders a 12-4 lead.
Cronulla were throwing plenty at the Raiders line, but Tom Starling would clean up a grubber and run down 60 metres down the field, which would be the platform for the next four pointer.
Starling was again in the thick of the action and smartly scooted out of dummy half to score under the post. The Raiders would extend their lead to 14 with just over 15 minutes remaining in the half.
It was three consecutive tries to the Raiders in quick succession, Starling would again provide the razzle-dazzle to make a break down the field where he would put in a kick for Williams, who scored under the black dot. Williams point scoring tally would continue to accrue and the Raiders would have a 24-4 lead.
Cronulla would hit back with five minutes remaining in the first half, Canberra were unable to defuse a crossfield kick and Briton Nikora was the beneficiary of a tap back from his winger Nene Macdonald. Mawene Hiroti’s conversion was successful after it struck off the post.
Ryan Sutton would be forced from the field after his right knee was twisted in a tackle just before half-time. The ‘Baby’ Green Machine would head into sheds with a 24-10 lead after a dominant half spearheaded by Williams and Starling.
Cronulla looked to have scored the first try of the second half, but it was ruled out due to a knock-on from Bryson Goodwin into the hands of Raiders fullback Adam Cook.
After the Sharks nearly scored down the under end, the Raiders would capitalise on a Cronulla error and Kai O’Donnell scored his first NRL try after some crafty work close to the line. Sam Williams perfect night off the boot would continue and it was 30-10.
Canberra junior Matt Frawley would cap off his Raiders debut in style as he crossed from close range fooling the Sharks line with a clever dummy. Williams missed his first conversion of the evening and the Raiders would have to settle for a four converted try lead.
Cronulla would give themselves a chance by scoring the next try, Wade Graham forced his way over the line despite efforts from the Raiders defence to hold him up. The follow up conversion was kicked which bought back the Raiders lead to three converted tries.
The Sharks would go back to back in quick fashion, Goodwin crossed on the last tackle to give his side plenty of hope heading into the final quarter of the game. Hiroti chipped the Raiders lead to 12 with 18 minutes remaining.
Another tough kick-off for Cronulla to handle from Cook and an inspired Raiders chase forced a dropout gave the Raiders a chance to capitalise and they did in style. The Sharks attempted a short dropout, but the Raiders were alert to it and Smith-Shields gathered the ball to score his first NRL try. Williams would misfire the conversion attempt and the Raiders led 38-22.
The high scoring second half would continue with the Sharks next to score, Nikora had his second of the night which gave his side some life heading into the final 10 minutes. The conversion was successful which meant the Raiders lead was knocked-back to 10.
A bizarre finish which included referee Ashley Klein leaving the field through injury, a sinbin to Corey Harawira-Naera and a wave of Cronulla attack was not enough to break the Raiders spirit. The Green Machine were able to hold on to a courageous win in a high-scoring affair.