Smart Signings: Ricky's Raiders were right to let Wighton go - but they might not see the benefit for a while
Ricky Stuart has to manage a generational change in Canberra. Losing his best player is the first part.
Joseph Tapine went from zero to hero as Canberra kept their finals campaign going with a 36-24 win on the Gold Coast.
The front-rower was binned for throwing a punch at Titans hooker Aaron Booth in the first half, but came back to score a superb solo try that eventually clinched the win for the Raiders.
The incident came just before half time, when Tapine reacted to what he thought had been a cannonball tackle by picking Booth off the floor with force and returning him to ground aggressively.
It was debatable, as the incident was not a traditional punch, but certainly the level of force was always going to interest Kasey Badger in the bunker.
“He’s the best front-rower in the game and backed up by a wonderful forward pack and Papa (Papalii),” said Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.
“For the life of me I don’t know why Pap didn’t play more time in Origin, but I tell you he’s supporting Taps as well as any frontrower in the game.
“These blokes … I love coaching them because they’re such a resilient bunch of blokes. Not always the easiest blokes to coach but I love coaching them because they’re good blokes and they’re just resilient and they want to win at all costs and I love people who just compete.”
The Raiders moved into ninth position on the ladder with the seven tries to four victory on Saturday, their fourth win from their past five starts.
Nick Cotric and Sebastien Kris scored doubles for the visitors as the Raiders racked up their highest score of the season, while Jayden Campbell’s own try-scoring double was mere consolation for the Titans.
Lock Adam Elliott was impressive with 126 running metres for the Raiders but limped off early in the second half with a leg injury and failed to return in a potential headache for Canberra coach Ricky Stuart.
Former Titan Jamal Fogarty also picked up a try-assist as well as eight points off the boot in his first match back on the Gold Coast following his off-season move to the Raiders.
Defeat is Gold Coast’s ninth in a row and will only increase the pressure on under-fire coach Justin Holbrook as the Titans battle to avoid a second wooden spoon in four years.
“We fought hard in the first half and obviously let too many soft tries in and chased the game at the end but same sort of issues, inexperience in key positions is hurting us and that’s what’s costing us,” said Holbrook.
“That’s what we’ve got and we can’t change that now. We’ll change it for next year but we can’t change that now. So we’ve got to get on with it and get ready for next week, but yeah, not good enough today.”
Things began ominously for the hosts when Matthew Timoko ran through a massive hole in the Titans defence to open the scoring in the fifth minute.
But Gold Coast regrouped when Tanah Boyd’s grubber kick in the 12th minute bounced up into the grateful arms of Brian Kelly, who crossed untouched to level the scores.
The Titans then thought they’d snatched the lead after Beau Fermor dived on an Aaron Booth kick only for the bunker to rule out the try having deemed the Gold Coast backrower bobbled his grounding.
Cotric’s quickfire double pushed the Raiders to a 16-6 lead, with the winger’s first a great finish after a sharp catch to snare Hudson Young’s flick-pass.
The Tapine flashpoint then arrived, with the Canberra man taking exception to a low tackle from Booth.
For his reaction, he was sent to the sin bin and the Titans made the one-man advantage count on the stroke of halftime when Boyd scurried over from dummy-half to ensure the hosts were down by four points at the break.
Canberra restored their 10-point lead early in the second half when Young pounced on Fogarty’s grubberkick, before a second flick-pass from Young in the 51st minute sent Kris over after good work in the build-up by Jack Wighton.
The Titans kept themselves in the hunt when Campbell finished off a Beau Fermor line-break in the 56th minute but when Tapine took four Titans over the tryline to score in the 66th minute, the premiership points were safe.
Kris and then Campbell added one more each for either team before fulltime as the Raiders prepare to face premiers Penrith in Canberra next Saturday.
Gold Coast have a daunting trip to Melbourne to play the Storm next Friday.