The Canberra Raiders have kept their top-four hopes alive this afternoon at GIO Stadium, with a 26-14 win over the New Zealand Warriors.
Despite the twelve-point margin, the result could have easily gone the other way after the Warriors dominated the first half.
The Raiders weren’t at their best early, with ill-discipline costing them.
They returned to the style they are known for in the second half and slowly gained control.
Injuries will be on Ricky Stuart’s mind this week, with George Williams, Josh Papalii, and John Bateman all under injury clouds.
Williams left the field for a HIA after eight minutes and never returned for the Raiders.
Nevertheless, the Warriors deserved their lead after ten minutes through plenty of possession.
Kodi Nikorima put a deft grubber in behind the defence and Hiku did well to ground it inside the dead-ball line.
It only took the Raiders seven minutes to level the score at 6-6.
With Williams off the field, Jack Wighton took the reins and put Jarrod Croker in with a great face ball at the line.
The next fifteen minutes would be a real concern for Stuart, with the Raiders side, temporarily at least, losing their focus.
Chanel Harris-Tavita knocked over two penalty goals in the 20th and 25th minutes, the latter coming from a melee arising out a scrum.
Minutes later, Josh Papalii pulled Tohu Harris down by grabbing his hair, something that may well be looked at by the Match Review Committee.
An offside penalty on the Raiders line was seen as enough infringements and Jack Wighton was sent to the sin bin.
The Warriors took advantage straight away, with a great no-look pass from Nikorima to Hiku.
The Warriors held a 14-6 advantage with ten minutes to go in the first half.
Momentum changes are commonplace in rugby league and there is no doubt the next one had a massive bearing on the game.
The Warriors were again threatening to score with Wighton still off the ground when Jazz Tevaga got a loose pass away.
Semi Valemei was the first to swoop and outpaced the Warriors’ cover to run the length of the field for the try.
The Raiders seemed energized by this and a further miracle try ensued.
Elliott Whitehead ran the ball down the right edge and grubbered through the line. He regathered and kicked back inside.
Ryan Sutton toed it forward and Hudson Young did well to score a most remarkable try.
Incredibly enough, with Wighton returning just before half time, Canberra held a 16-14 lead at the break, completely against the run of play.
Ten minutes after the re-start, the Raiders benefited from another intercept.
Tuivasa-Sheck threw a pass that could have led to a Warriors try if it wasn’t intercepted by Whitehead.
He linked up with Jordan Rapana who was chased down well upfield.
From there the Raiders swept left, with Croker turning Valemei back inside for an impressive try.
A kick out on the full and offside penalty allowed Croker to get the Raiders out to an eight-point lead going into the last quarter of the game.
A hamstring injury to Tuivasa-Sheck seemed to suck some of the resistance out of the Warriors although they never threw in the towel.
The Raiders sealed the win with seven minutes remaining after a right edge raid.
The ball went through nine pairs of hands in all, with Nick Cotric scoring in the corner.
The Raiders were home, but Stuart will know his team will need to produce better over the next month to progress far in the finals.
Stuart was far from pleased with the refereeing performance and made his thoughts clear post-game.
The Raiders coach saw the game mirroring that of a rugby union clash.
“If we had have put some lineouts in when the ball went out, we would’ve had two rugby union games here in two days,” Stuart said.
As his time at the Warriors comes to an end, Todd Payten praised the players for changing his life and his career journey.
“I’m really proud of this group of men, they’ve changed my life,” said Payten.
“I owe them a whole debt of gratitude.
“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me and my family moving forward.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3 points: Elliott Whitehead (CAN) took on a lot of responsibility with George Williams missing much of the game.
Two of his kicks resulted in tries, an intercept led to effectively a twelve-point play, whilst he also did his usual work in attack and defence;
2 points: Kodi Nikorima (WAR) had a strong game for the Warriors, setting up two tries and continually threatening the Raiders’ defensive line.
1 point: Jack Wighton (CAN) was perhaps a bit unlucky to spend time in the sin bin, but the rest of his game was top-notch, especially with his halves partner out of the game.