Tries from Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric helped Canberra Raiders come back a 4-0 half-time deficit to beat the Wests Tigers in a rugged battle from which both teams can take pride. Luke Brooks had given the Tigers an early lead, but Russell Packer's sin-binning turned the tide in the Raiders' favour.
Packer, who made his return to the side, was penalised for hauling his man down after an illegal steal and the visitors punished the error in the following set as they got back to winning ways after letting a healthy lead slip against Newcastle last time out.
Story of the match
The hosts still started the contest on the front foot, applying pressure and surging forwards at every opportunity which led to David Nofoaluma forced the game’s first penalty in the sixteenth minute, and the first try followed.
On the final tackle of the following set, the ball was sent high and wide to the left by Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks collected the scraps from Curtis Scott’s fumble in the air before escaping not one but two Raiders defenders to spin away and put the ball down over the whitewash.
Canberra had won eight of the previous ten meetings between the two sides but, with their hosts on top early on, this clash looked like having a different outcome.
However, the Raiders never give up without a fight and forced a penalty of their own to give themselves good field position high up the pitch and only a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Harry Brant prevented the scores from being levelled up almost immediately.
This, though, was enough to give Canberra belief and as the half wore on, the home side began to concede penalties frequently.
An illegal steal gave the visitors great field position yet again, as the clock ticked into the last ten minutes of the first half, but there was just no way through the sheer mass of bodies on the try-line and the Tigers maintained that resilience to see their lead through to the final ten seconds of the half when a tremendous tackle from Jordan Rapana prevented Nofoauma from doubling the lead in the corner.
After an extremely tight first forty, the Raiders were desperate to open play up early on in the second and forced error from Nofoaluma as they ramped up the pressure.
The Tigers had shipped an average of twenty-five points a game going into this one, but you wouldn’t have known it as, time after time, they threw bodies in the way of the ball which was then launched straight into touch as the away side failed to break them down.
Despite the lack of fans in the Cambpbelltown Sports Stadium, the atmosphere down on the pitch was electric throughout the fiery contest as both sides put in big hits in their points, but it is the Raiders who struck gold.
Canberra hadn’t lost two games in a row for over a year and Jack Wighton was in no mood to change that, collecting the ball ten yards from the line and surged through the Tigers’ defence to level the scores before the conversion saw the visitors take the lead for the first time in the match.
The Raiders were resurgent and, despite Joseph Tapine’s quest for points being ended, Brooks knocked the ball on in the following set as the pace and pressure of the game began to take its toll on the home side.
Moments later, Russell Packer - playing his first NRL game for over four hundred days - was sent to the sin bin for pulling his man down on the restart after an illegal steal, and the Raiders took full advantage immediately.
The outnumbered Wests couldn’t cope with the switch in play from left to right as George Willams’ inch perfect grubber in behind was collected by Cotric who dived over the line to give his side a two-score lead and Jarrod Croker kicked his second conversion to stretch the margin to eight.
Moses Mbye narrowed the gap with a penalty for the hosts on the hour mark as the Tigers search for a way back into the contest, but Canberra dealt with everything else asked of them and Croker kicked a third with ten minutes remaining as the Raiders got back to winning ways.
What's next for both sides?
The Tigers host North Queensland Cowboys next time out in the NRL next Saturday and, despite losing to Canberra, will look to build on what was an impressive, spirited performance which was only lost when reduced to twelve men.
As for the Raiders, they’re at home to Manly Sea Eagles in the sixth round of fixtures and will expect to make in six wins from their last seven having won the three games prior to their defeat to Newcastle. Doing so would give them the chance to move top of the table.