The Canberra Raiders have pulled off a dramatic late escape to avoid another horrendous defeat, scoring late to avert disaster against the Newcastle Knights.
Josh Papalii has celebrated his 250th NRL game in style, scoring a milestone try as the Canberra Raiders ran through South Sydney in the first half of their game in Dubbo.
The 32-12 scoreline reflects the dominance of the Raiders, who were ruthless in their ability to take advantage of another litany of Souths errors.
Rugby league can be a very simple game at times, and Ricky Stuart’s men have been as guilty as any in the league of making life hard for themselves, but they ran hard, got into position and then executing their attacking moves late in their sets with minimal fuss.
Papaliii was front and centre of everything good that they did: his try set the tone in the 13th minute and the prop ran for over 130m, ably assisted by Joe Tapine and the irrepressible Jordan Rapana.
“They’re a resilient bunch and they were never going to let ‘Papa’ down today,” said Stuart. “We had two individual missed tackles in the second half, and we should have stopped those tries. It should have been zip. That’s how good we defended.”
“They don’t want to hear too much about it because they don’t like getting rapped like that but they deserve it.
“That win after the week we’ve had with the flu and injuries and players that had to pull out … it was a really, really good performance under the conditions and the pressure we had on us this week.”
“I come into these press conferences and I know everybody wants a scientific answer or a strategic answer to what’s going on – when you’re not getting 50 per cent of the ball and you’re not completing at more that 50-odd percent, you’re not going to beat anyone.”
Stuart might well have been talking about South Sydney. The Bunnies are easy to deal with when they play like this: their completion rate remains the worst in the comp, and they often commit their errors early and then are forced to chase the game late.
Jason Demetriou has long bemoaned an inability to make their advantages count through errors. He might take solace in that his team continue to dominate on major statistical categories, implying that it will at some point come good, though that must look very distant now after another mid-60% completion afternoon.
A 63% completion rate before half time is never likely to win anyone a game of rugby league and Canberra were able to take maximum advantage of their opponent’s profligacy, going to the sheds 20-0 to the good.
Souths lost Junior Tatola in the first tackle and Taane Milne not long after, both to concussions, while the Raiders were forced into a reshuffle even earlier with Ryan Sutton and Matt Frawley unable to start the game due to the flu that has swept through the Raiders dressing room, while they lost Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to a hamstring injury at the break.
“Bit of adversity at the start of the game and individually we were trying to solve it, and we put a lot of pressure on our defence,” said Jason Demetriou.
“Canberra completed higher and did what they had to do, they were running harder and tackling harder.
“I just felt like we still gave them opportunities through poor offloads that put more pressure on our defence… when we got opportunities, we overplayed, chasing the scoreboard which has been something we’ve done too often instead of having more patience.”
The Raiders now sit next to the Bunnies on the ladder, with only a superior points difference keeping South Sydney in the top eight.
The tone for Souths’ long afternoon was set in the first tackle, with Tatola taken off with a head knock and Liam Knight pressed into early service.
Within five minutes, they were behind as Jack Wighton flighted a classic Harbour Bridge pass to Timoko to score.
Papaliii then got in on the action in game 250, turning a tackle and reaching out his arm to score through poor Bunnies tackling.
The defence had been the weakness, but the attack was also faltering. Souths racked up several repeat sets on the Raiders’ line but never went close to crossing it, and as soon as Canberra got themselves back in good ball, they broke through with ease via Hudson Young.
The final five minutes of the first half were catastrophic for South Sydney. They began 30m out with an attacking scrum, but Cody Walker dropped the ball on the first play.
The Raiders battered their way into Souths’ half and came up with a one of the best team tries of the season: Starling put Corey Horsburgh through a hole, he dumped inside to Young, who returned the ball to Tom Starling and eventually Seb Kris got the try.
If that was miraculous, the next was depressing. The Bunnies failed to regain a short dropout and then allowed the Raiders to march the length of the field in one set, resulting in Timoko grabbing a second at the corner to put Canberra 24-0 up.
Souths finally made their breakthrough, though the manner of it was more luck than judgement. The Souths line was in chaos on tackle five, with nobody taking command until Damien Cook was able to poke his nose through the line and speed away.
The trend of disorganised attacking continued. Souths continued to stack up possession and field position, but were repelled three times. Wighton then took an intercept and while he hauled in by Cook, a penalty was called moments later and Schnieder took the lead out to 20 points.
Another breakaway would lead to points. Blake Taaffe passed behind Alex Johnston, allowed Jordan Rapana to sweep up. Within seconds, Xavier Savage was able to show all his speed to race in for his first of the year.
Johnston would quickly redeem himself with one at the corner, but the die had long since been cast.