On a cold, cold night, it was the Canberra Raiders who best braved the terse conditions, as they defeated the Newcastle Knights 36-22 at GIO Stadium.
It completes the double for the Raiders over the Knights this year, with the Raiders collective points tally over those two games sitting at 90, compared to the Knights 44.
Surprisingly, it was the Knights who enjoyed the bulk of possession at 61%, as they had their periods of dominance despite the loss.
Yet despite having less possession throughout the match, the Raiders managed to stay ahead of the game and eventually snag the win, a testament to their steely resolve in defence.
As for Blake Austin, it continued what has been a remarkable season for him. Touted as the buy of the year and justifiably so, he scored the first hat-trick of his career.
The half-time break saw the Raiders up 24-4 before the Knights showed some resolve of their own and scored a few tries to put pressure on the Raiders.
Despite the Knights best efforts to claw their way back into the contest, they left it too little, too late, and could not get over the line.
Well aware of how well Austin has played, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart praised the improvement of his 5/8.
“Blake will keep improving as the little things in his game [improve],” Stuart said.
“We all know he can attack, he was wonderful in that area tonight.
“The good ones always turn up where the ball is and thatâ€™s what happens with Blake because he’s a good player.
“The other areas in his game that we’re working on are the little things such as his defence and his work off the football and he’s doing a good job there, I thought defensively he was good tonight.”
What disappointed Knights coach Rick Stone, was his side’s poor defensive efforts throughout the match.
“They did [attack well] but realistically our defence in the first 20 minutes was poor,” Stone said.
“The ruck speed that Canberra generated was super quick and it’s not an NRL standard what we managed in those first 20 minutes.
“Thatâ€™s two weeks in a row now. Against Brisbane we were 20-nil down after 20 and 24-nil down after 20 against these blokes (the Raiders).
“Energy-wise the signs before the game were good, it’s just like we got off the bus and forgot that we had to work together defensively.”
Defence was the key for the Raiders and captain Jarrod Croker praised the efforts of the forwards for their lion-hearted efforts.
“I thought both edges defended fairly well but for the edges to do that youâ€™ve got to have your middle boys working,” he said.
“I thought our middle boys won it for us tonight.
“They were outstanding, they all played wellâ€¦ it just made our decisions a lot easier on the edges.”
With Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts now both back in the Knights side, Stone was pleased to see them finding ways to create opportunities.
“[It was] good to see our first choice halves back and executing a bit,” Stone said.
“Having our halves back definitely helps, no doubt, but even the world’s best halves arenâ€™t going to win you games if your defence is not good enough at the start of the game.
Player of the Game:
3. Sam Williams
2. Blake Austin
1. Akuila Uate
Canberra Raiders 36 (Austin 3, Papalii 2, Croker tries; Croker 6 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 22 (Uate 2, Snowden, McManus tries; Roberts 3 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 6,015.