The Green Machine starts the year with a scrappy victory.
The Canberra Raiders have done something they haven’t done very often in the past decade: win a first-round match. They have beaten the Cronulla Sharks 24-20 at Remondis Stadium on Sunday night.
It had all the trademarks of the opening game of the season: it was inconsistent, error-riddled and pretty ugly. Neither side looked polished for eighty minutes, but it was ultimately the more composed team that got over the line.
The Raiders had a few late changes to its starting side, but the last-minute disruptions did nothing to hamper their opening exchanges. The Green Machine looked well-oiled early on, with structured play and smooth progress down the field.
They made the Sharks look inferior, and capitalised on the early dominance with their first try of the season to fullback Jack Wighton in a well constructed move in just the 7th minute of the match. New captain Jarrod Croker quickly fell into his accurate goal-kicking habits, piloting his first conversion over for a 6-0 lead.
[quote]With Wighton as the replacement for the mercurial Milford, the Raiders faithful would have been suddenly asking: 'Anthony who?' [/quote]
The Raiders continued to look like the stronger team, with the Sharks coming up with more errors and ill-discipline. A Cronulla shoulder-charge led to a penalty goal in the 22nd minute, which Croker also calmly slotted.
However, it wasn’t long after when the Sharks opened their account for season 2015, with Anthony Tupou cruising over under the posts from a Chris Heighington pass. Sharpshooter Michael Gordon easily converted and the margin was back to two.
But any confidence the Sharks had gained was almost instantaneously destroyed in a piece of magical play by Wighton. After a Cronulla bomb went too deep, Wighton hot-footed it to the twenty-metre line for a re-start. In the blink of an eye he was through the defensive line and sprinting eighty metres to score under the posts. With Wighton as the replacement for the mercurial Milford, the Raiders faithful would have been suddenly asking: 'Anthony who?' Canberra went to the break up 14-6.
But some switches were flicked during the intermission, as the Raiders came out in their typical lax fashion, while Cronulla had a renewed sense of enthusiasm and structure. It only took until the 44th minute for the Sharks to cross out wide, and with Gordon on-song with the boot, four points turned into six and the score was closer at 14-12.
But the Raiders of 2015 already seem to have a bit more resolve in their play, and they struck back not long after—scoring out wide in an athletic put-down by Jordan Rapana. Croker’s conversion was pushed just wide and the score remained tight at 18-12.
The sides continued to trade blows, but the Sharks had far more vigour in the second half. It was only five minutes later when Ricky Leutele scored out wide, and despite an unnecessary trip to the video review, the try was awarded. Gordon missed the conversion, but a penalty goal soon after had the scores tied.
It was then that tensions reached boiling point, and after a fairly innocuous scuffle at the play-the-ball, Wighton went from two-try hero to utter villain in the space of a few punches. He was sent from the field for ten minutes, along with an unlucky Sosaia Feki for Cronulla.
The ensuing penalty meant Canberra relinquished possession, and gave Cronulla an easy two points. It was the first time in the match the home side had been in front, edging ahead 20-18.
But the roller coaster was not over, and new recruit Sisa Waqa played the experience card for the Raiders. After feigning left from a play-the-ball close to the line, the ex-Storm player used his size and reach to somehow find the line and get the visitors back in front at 24-20.
There was still plenty of time for the Sharks to snatch a late victory, and they threw everything at the Canberra line. It looked as though they would score for sure in the 76th minute, before Wighton redeemed his earlier indiscretion with a try-saving tackle of the match.
The Raiders managed to hold out Cronulla for the remaining few minutes for a much-needed and confidence-boosting win. Jack Wighton, despite his bout in the boxing ring, was awarded man-of-the-match.
There was plenty to like about the Raiders in this one. Although they didn’t always channel it through the best avenues, there was plenty of fire and passion in their performance. The older recruits appear as if they'll have a calming influence on the younger players; and the likes of Austin, Cornish and Wighton look like they will be able to find the line as the season continues. Consistency will come with more games—and hopefully more results come with them.
Raiders: 24 (Tries—Wighton 2, Rapana, Waqa; Goals—Croker 4/5)
Sharks: 20 (Tries—Tupou, Feki, Leutele; Goals—Gordon 4/5)
How do you rate the 2015 Raiders in game one?