Wests Tigers’ early season woes continued on Monday night when Canberra inflicted a third loss in four games upon the pre-season NRL premiership favourites at Campbelltown Stadium.
The Raiders chalked up a comfortable 30-16 victory, their first win in eight against the joint venture, thanks to two tries from Jarrod Croker and four-pointers from Josh McCrone, Jarrod Croker, Sam Mataora and skipper Terry Campese.
Campese was impressive throughout for his side, who were missing fullback Josh Dugan and influential backrower Shaun Fensom, and easily won the battle of the five-eighths with Benji Marshall.
Marshall was unable to assert any significant influence over the game as the Tigers desperately missed the presence of skipper Robbie Farah around the ruck.
Tigers coach Tim Sheens shifted Tim Moltzen to fullback and drafted young Jacob Miller into halfback in an attempt to kickstart his misfiring attack.
However, it was the visitors who started the brighter with McCrone latching onto a sweet pass from Campese with just five minutes on the clock.
The Tigers hit back when Gareth Ellis charged over from close range six minutes later, and Miller gave the hosts the lead when he latched onto a loose ball, which he appeared to have knocked forward.
Croker hit back for the visitors when he raced 75 metres just before halftime after Campese hauled in a Benji Marshall grubber-kick just in front of his own line and offloaded to the centre, who outpaced Moltzen to touch down.
The Raiders came racing out of the traps after the interval and their dominance was rewarded when Mataora brushed aside three players to score six minutes after the restart.
Campese sealed the win with a fourth try for the visitors 13 minutes from fulltime and Croker added his second shortly after to add some gloss to the scoreline before Moltzen added a late consolation for the hosts.
Croker kicked five goals for the Raiders, with Marshall kicking two for Tigers.
Raiders coach David Furner hailed the performance of Campese, who spent most of last season on the sidelines with knee, groin and pectoral injuries.
“He’s a player who you need to be touching the ball as much as possible and I thought his control and leadership was very good,” Furner said.
“It was a good knock by the skipper.”
Australia and Queensland forward David Shillington was forced out of the game early in the second half after tearing an oblique muscle, and is expected to be on the sidelines for at least two weeks.
Josh Papalii also limped out with a thigh injury and Furner said his side learned lessons from last week’s loss to Sydney Roosters where they lost three players before halftime.
“We lost Shillo and Josh Papalii and we talked about handling that type of adversity after last week and we did,” he said.
“It’s a good win, and the players deserved it.”
Wests Tigers coach Sheens lamented his side’s indiscipline as they went down 8-3 in the penalty count in addition to missing 40 tackles compared to just nine by the Raiders.
“You’ve got to be able to defend and tonight we didn’t,” Sheens said.
“But you’ve got to keep working at it.”
“It’s (a tough start) but we’ve been in these positions before and we’ve been criticised by everybody and sundry and we’ve fought our way out of it.”
Tigers centre Chris Lawrence was put on report for a lifting tackle on Jack Wighton, who was also sanctioned for a high shot on Marshall.