Going down to 12 men for a send-off can rattle any side but the Canberra Raiders dug deep to produce a brave victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Raiders had Josh Papalii sent-off for a shoulder charge, one that had many fans scratching their heads.
The consensus was that it was deemed a sin-bin but the new rules went for the harsher call in the send-off.
The win was a much-needed boost for the Raiders who snapped a five-game losing streak.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart agreed that Papalii had hit the Bulldogs player high but said he was falling in the tackle.
“There are going to be a whole heap of send-offs this year if that’s a send-off incident. I just hope they don’t change now,” Stuart said of the NRL’s edict to stamp out contact with the neck and head.
“If that’s going to be the precedent, we’re going to find a completely different game of rugby league than we’ve been following for many, many years.”
It would be former Bulldogs back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera to open the scoring for the Raiders off some nice lead-up work.
That was the sole try of the first half as it went into the sheds as a narrow contest.
Nick Cotric, who has taken some time to find his feet at the Bulldogs, got them on the board in the second half.
He spotted a small gap at dummy half, went through & planted the ball down despite some pressure.
The Bulldogs would get the advantage soon after when Jack Wighton was sin-binned for a cannonball tackle.
Nick Meaney would then score against twelve Raiders men when he sliced through a simple gap to score an easy try.
Soon after, Wighton would return before another player found themselves in trouble.
Ava Seumanufagai was put on report for a high shot.
The Raiders would buckle down and hit their stride with a man down as Curtis Scott was able to weave and dart his way over the line.
Seb Kris coasted through a yawning gap despite the Bulldogs having the extra man and put all the pressure back on the Bulldogs.
They would only be able to score one try and it was not enough in the end, with fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak scoring it.
The Raiders would win 20-16, a crucial win to give them some confidence.
Down but not out, Stuart praised the resiliency shown by his Raiders side to get the win despite being down a man.
“But fortunately through their culture and the spirit of the jumper and the player inside it, we hung on.
“I got quite excited with the energy showed when adversity hit us.
“We were down to 11 straight away and the players turned. We were a completely different football team when we went to 11 men.”
Trent Barrett was vocal about the rule changes and said that if they continued, lopsided scores could become a more regular reality.
“You don’t like seeing uneven contests,” Barrett said.
“Even before these rules were in [this weekend], the six-to-go rule and others have changed the game dramatically as it is.
“We’ve seen some really lopsided results and this is just going to make it worse. If that’s what they want that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t know if that’s good for the game.”
The message to his players was simple, however. Barrett says his Bulldogs side needs to learn how to win again.
“There were some things in there during that period that you just can’t do,” Barrett said.
“We need to learn how to win again. That was there to be won.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Curtis Scott (CAN)
2. Luke Thompson (BUL)
1. Tom Starling (CAN)