The Raiders took down the Dragons 18-14 in golden point on Firday night, after an Elliot Whitehead try stole a win for the home side. The Raiders for the first time in a while can celebrate a close game, one in which they were outplayed for the majority of it.
Raiders avoid another ‘near miss’
Regardless of the season thus far, it is surely logical to look at the Raiders as favourites in this game. The Dragons welcomed back both Paul Vaughan and Josh Dugan on an extended bench, who both started. Dugan though left the field due to injury, leaving the Dragons short on troops. With Hodgson coming back as well for Canberra, this was a game they needed to win to revitalise their season.
The Dragons though were easily the better side in the first half, and for most of the game. Defence was their backbone, assisted by great play from the halves and consistent attacking chances. After the Raiders first try, the Dragons dominated both possession and attacking opportunities. The Raiders had a few chances here and there, but their basics were simply not to standard, and by that were outplayed.
Aidan Sezer was the saviour however, intercepting a Gareth Widdop pass and equalising the scores after 60 mins. From there the game was anyone’s for the taking, and the Raiders lifted their play accordingly. Countless field goal chances went begging, and most were poorly executed with numerous seven tackle sets awarded to either side. Sezer stepped up with a tremendous 40/20 kick, and a gorgeous off load from David Taylor to Elliot Whitehead won the game for the Green Machine. A game that Canberra could potentially have dominated, but for what seems like a countless number of times in 2017, they failed to live up to their hype from the outset.
Finals footy looking bleak for the Red V
The Dragons were the Cinderella story at the start of the season, racking up some terrific results and keeping a firm spot in the top four. An ANZAC day loss to the Roosters sparked a slump in form, and all of a sudden they are looking unlikely to even be around in September. Failing to be imposing on attack means you have no bite, and no bite means no wins which means no finals. The strong defence that Coach Paul McGregor has built is aided by some classy names, like Dugan, Widdop and McCrone, but a star half who can dominate a game in all facets is something the Dragons have lacked this year. Without that formula for success in their spine, the Dragons will fall further down the list unless both Widdop and McCrone play out of their skins.
The Dragons fall to 8th on the ladder, with Parramatta having a bye round, the lowest they have been this season. Games against the Sea Eagles, Knights and Rabbitohs lay a platform for consistent, promising results to carry into September, something the Dragons’ should be hungrier than ever to achieve.
Widdop steps up with the hand and the boot
Gareth Widdop was the best player in the competition through the first 10 rounds, and although injuries set him back, his work hasn’t hindered from it. There were many silver linings in the Dragons loss, but Widdop’s play stood out as the main one to cherish. From the start he was instrumental for his side to succeed. His work with the boot, which was a must for the Dragons to stay competitive, was near perfect forcing many drop outs, as well as gaining vital metres in a low scoring affair. He finished with 294 kicking metres, his second best haul of the season, aiding in the Dragons massive attacking opportunities early on. As well as his kicking game, Widdop finished with a try of his own from a Nene Macdonald break, as well as an assist with a sweet lofted pass to set up Jason Nightingale in the corner.
The Dragons have struggled to be a top attacking side to aid their defensive pressure in the middle this season, and often Widdop is the only guy leading from the front, but with the arrival of Ben Hunt in 2018, there is genuine promise for the halves next season.
Dave Taylor shows glimpses of his past
A man who was one of the top Queensland prospects during his Brisbane days, but as he fell down the ladder of rampaging forwards the desire for Dave Taylor from teams fell dramatically. Ricky Stuart gave him a shot in the Canberra side, and although he isn’t a consistent starter, Taylor has had some solid performances in 2017, highlighted on Friday night against the Dragons.
Taylor came on in the 29th minute, and in a game that needed a spark for the Green Machine, Taylor had clear instructions to instigate an attack for his side. Taylor’s unstoppable nature and huge physique kept the Dragon’s defensive line on their toes, as he chewed up metres every time he got hold of the ball. When it mattered most, Taylor was there to set up the match winning try with a glorious offload to Elliot Whitehead coming off a solid run close to the Dragon’s line. Taylor finished with 105 metres, the best for his 2017 campaign. He goes unnoticed a lot of the time, but Taylor’s solid production should keep him high up in the books of Coach Ricky Stuart.
Tries: Cotric (6m), Sezer (60m), Whitehead (83m)
Goals: Crocker 3/3
Tries: Widdop (13m), Nightingale (22m)
Goals: Widdop 2/3
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