The Raiders end the 2014 season in style.
The Canberra Raiders have erased the memories of a tumultuous season in the best way possible, completing a trifecta of wins over the final three rounds with a 33-20 defeat of the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.
The win came with a few added bonuses—sending retiring Brett White, and Anthony Milford who will join the Broncos next year, out in the best possible fashion. The Green Machine's victory also ended Parramatta’s push for a finals berth.
From the early stages of the match it looked like fortunes were going to favour the home side, as the inconsistent version of the Eels side had arrived at the ground.
Jarryd Hayne knocked on from a Canberra bomb in just the third minute, and the Raiders wasted little time capitalising on the mistake. From the ensuing set of six Canberra found the line through Jeremy Hawkins.
It was then the 17th minute that the Green Machine turned six points into twelve. Joel Edwards strolled through the Eels’ defensive line, before seemingly butchering the try by dummying to Anthony Milford and being grabbed by the Eels. But he managed a miraculous pass on the inside to Glen Buttriss, who found the line for his first try of the year.
A few minutes later it didn’t seem like the Eels had any interest in keeping their season alive, as another mistake then led onto a Jarryd Hayne tirade at the referee—one that pushed the whistleblower too far. A penalty resulted and Jarrod Croker wasted little energy in extending the scoreline to 14-0.
Parramatta finally improved its attitude after the half-hour mark, with a beautiful sweeping movement leading to a try in the corner. The successful conversion from the sideline made the score 14-6.
But the Raiders were not going to lie down in this contest, even proving it’s possible to make your own luck on the footy field. Edrick Lee turned an otherwise innocuous bomb into a chance when he batted the ball back to his side, before Croker threw a brilliant cutout pass to Bill Tupou who somehow found the line to score the Raiders’ third.
The Raiders had none of its trademark post-half-time fade-outs in this game, resuming the second stanza the way it finished the first. Ten minutes into the latter forty, Paul Vaughan brought back memories of his game-winning run against Melbourne earlier in the year to barge his way over and extend the score to 26-6.
Then just six minutes later Josh McCrone, who had found some enterprising form away from the pressure of halfback, made it look all too easy as he strolled over to seemingly bury the game at 32-6.
But Parramatta hadn’t found itself in finals contention by a fluke, and after a melee got the fire burning a little more fiercely, they found their spark again.
It was the man of the moment Hayne who really got the Eels on a roll, scoring a miraculous try. After the ball fell from his grasp close to the line, he managed to get his foot to the ball before it hit the grass, before chasing it and planting it down. The video deemed it legal and suddenly the smell of a comeback lingered in the air.
Hayne was the mastermind of the next two tries, which came in quick succession. Chris Sandow’s kicking wasn’t doing his side any favours at that point though, but nevertheless the Eels had dragged the score back to 32-20.
But some tough defence by the Raiders in the final ten minutes, and a late break that got them down the Eels’ end of the field, led to Canberra putting the result beyond doubt.
It was fitting that Anthony Milford—as one of the best players all year and in his final game for the club—slotted a relaxed field-goal to extend the margin to thirteen points and seal the match.
As the clock wound down both sides knew their respective seasons were over. In a twist of irony the way the year ended for Canberra would have felt far more satisfying than for Parramatta. The Eels were left to lament a chance of finals footy gone begging, while the Green Machine could be satisfied with three consecutive wins to close out the year and a renewed sense of hope for next season.
Raiders: 33 (Tries: Hawkins, Buttriss, Tupou, Vaughan, McCrone; Goals: Croker 6/6; Field Goals: Milford 1/1)
Eels: 20 (Tries: Sio 2, Hayne 2; Goals: Richards 2/4)
Are there signs of better things to come for the Raiders next year?