After a nervous first-half that saw both teams hit the sheds with 6 points apiece, the Canberra Raiders were able to click into gear in the second half, eventually putting the Wests Tigers to the sword and running out 30-12 winners in a comprehensive showing.
In their first outing for 2021, both sides seemed to suffer Round 1 jitters in the opening stanza, unable to hold the ball for any significant amount of time.
While discipline would improve through the game, the Raiders completed only 28/41 sets, with the Tigers putting up equally disheartening figures at 33/44.
However, stats alone do not tell the story.
While it could be argued the Raiders were merely suffering from overexuberance after six months on the training paddock, it appeared the Tigers had spent little time on the training paddock at all.
The Tigers were making simple errors, seemingly directionless in attack.
It feels like Groundhog Day as pundits once again declare that this must be Luke Brooks’ year and, once again, he appears to show little of the promise of his early career.
His failings looking all the direr when compared to his compatriots in James Tedesco and even the less consistent Mitchell Moses.
Despite the mediocre start for the Tigers, it would be the perenially second-fiddle, now first-choice hooker Jacob Liddle that opened the scoring in the 25th minute.
Persistence and set restarts going their way certainly contributed to their first try but credit is due to the Tigers who did manage to consistently hold off the Raiders before marching their way downfield.
Brooks delivered the short pass and Liddle was able to bump over next to the posts.
The aging-like-wine Jordan Rapana would even things up ten minutes later after the Raiders built pressure of their own.
A nice kick from English halfback George Williams was destined for the in-goal, but a deflection delivered it perfectly to a diving Rapana.
The scores would be tied up with both teams heading into the half with a converted try next to their name.
As the half-time hooter sounded, one could only imagine a sigh of relief from the Raiders who were only moments from walking into their waiting super coach Ricky Stuart.
Say what you will of Sticky’s coaching past, the team and culture he has built at Canberra has instilled the breath of Rugby League life back into the Nation’s Capital.
At moments like these, it seems all the Green Machine needs to grease the cogs is an inspirational Stuart sermon.
Yes, the Top 4 (and Premiership) hopefuls were locked in an even tussle with an almost certainly lesser-ranked team, but it did not feel like a spray was coming from the head coach.
More likely, some encouragement and words of wisdom about cool heads were heard. Whatever the pitch from Stuart, it seemed to work come the second half.
No sooner had the whistle’s piercing screech faded, the returning Ryan James was crashing over for his first try in more than two years.
Having missed the bulk of the last two seasons with knee injuries, it was surely a sight of joy for all fans of our great sport (except perhaps Tigers faithful) to see the former Gold Coast captain cross the white stripe in his first game back.
From then, there appeared little hope for the Tigers. George Williams was denied a 60-metre intercept not long after when the bunker ruled a knock-on in the lead-up.
The Raiders would not be kept waiting long for their next effort when the surprise second-row Hudson Young nabber a four-pointer of his own.
When John Bateman left, it appeared Corey Harawira-Naera was destined to line-up in his spot on the edge.
As is well known though, Harawira-Naera was suspended after a mid-range drink-driving offence.
While he may have thought himself a surety of reclaiming his position, Young’s performance may indicate the Raiders have already found a willing and able replacement.
The Raiders run home for the final 20 minutes saw young fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad streak down the right edge and Jordan Rapana rack up a double to put Canberra at 30 points.
Their scoring was only interrupted by the Tigers’ ever-reliable David Nofoaluma at the 72-minute mark.
Full points to the Tigers for effort, particularly in the first half, but coach Michael Maguire will be scratching his head, wondering if anything sunk in over the off-season.
The Tigers were well off the mark today, with few positive signs. The Raiders, however, were every part the Premiership candidates once they started to click together in the second half.
Canberra Raiders 30 (Rapana 2, James, Young, Nicoll-Klokstad) def Wests Tigers (Liddle, Nofoaluma)
George Williams 4/5
Luke Brooks 2/2
George Williams 1/1
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – George Williams (CAN)
2 Points – Hudson Young (CAN)
1 Point – Joseph Tapine (CAN)