Canberra Raiders recovered from 14 points down in the dying minutes as they secured the most unlikely of victories over Canterbury Bulldogs at Belmore to keep their hopes of a play-off finish alive.
The Raiders were two minutes away from losing another close game in 2018. But thanks to super sub Blake Austin, who came on with fourteen minutes remaining to score a try and spark the Raiders to eighteen unanswered points, the visitors’ season remains alive.
Returning to their heartland, Belmore Sports Ground, has again proven unlucky for the Bulldogs, winning only two from eight games since 2015. The Bulldogs though started strong, and played some exciting league scoring first through Marshall-King in under the posts and Rhyse Martin Converting for a 6-0 lead after eight minutes.
The Dogs were strong in the first 20 minutes, halves Marshall-King and Lewis controlling the game and forwards Elliott, Jackson and Martin defending well, and Hopoate going close again minutes later held up by Canberra fullback, and former Bulldog Brad Abbey.
The Raiders then crossed in the 20th Minute with a try down the left hand side through Aidan Sezer and Sam Williams to put Jarrod Croker. With Croker adding the extras to tie it up 6-6.
A high quality game ensued with both teams playing entertaining footy and only a penalty by Iosia Soliola in the 25th minute providing the Bulldogs the opportunity to jump out to an 8-6 lead.
A forward pass provided the Raiders good field position, and some nice backline play allowing Siliva Havili to provide a nice offload to Croker to go in for his second try. Croker’s conversion was wide and the score remained 10-8 leading into the final 10 minutes of the first half and then half time.
The Bulldogs attacked the Raiders right edge through out the first half, targeting Sam Williams and that play continued early in the second half.
The Raiders gave away an early penalty after the kick-off allowing the Bulldogs good field position which then lead to a beautiful ball to Martin who was too hard to stop breaking through Tapine and Abbey to scoring a great try beside the post. Martin converts his try giving the Bulldogs the lead 14-10, eight minutes into the second half.
Minutes later with the Abbey gathering a log range kick from Lewis, the Raiders were awarded six again allowing them to score through Nick Cotric in the right hand corner, making this his eighth consecutive try scoring game. Croker slipped during his conversion attempt and his kick travels across the goal face, the score are locked at 14-14 with 25 minutes to play.
The momentum begins to shift towards the Raiders, and when Greg Eastwood goes for a miracle play and knocks the ball on, the Raiders were 40 metres out with scrum feed. Four tackles later Joey Leilua was held out by great defence, which Leilua reacted against and his back chatting to the referee gifted the Bulldogs a penalty.
In hindsight this penalty and the ensuing play looked as though it was the turning point of the game, as the Bulldogs put on fourteen unanswered points to go out to a 28-14 lead with eight mins remaining. Lewis’s kick and Josh Morris’s high leap allowed Martin to go in for his second try. Martin’s conversion gave the dogs a 20-14 lead. Minutes later he had his third try after a strong run by Josh Morris again and then a magic flick pass to the PNG International to run 20 metres to score his third try and convert. With eight minutes remaining the Bulldogs then received a gift penalty allowing them to go out to a 28-14 lead.
The Bulldogs were in total control and the Raiders looked as though their season was finished. But Austin’s injection had an instant impact. Regaining the ball off a short kick-off, the Raiders went down field with Leilua close to scoring, then out to Austin who steps and scores under the posts. Croker converts with five minutes to go the score is 28-20.
Play then stops after another long-range movement by the Raiders ended in Brad Abbey being knocked out on the last play in a legal tackle and great defence by the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs then lost the ball in their 20 meters providing the Raiders an opportunity which they took through Tapine try and Croker conversion bringing them to within two points 28-26 with 2 minutes remaining.
Off the kick-off the Raiders via an Austin line break allowed Leilua to take bragging rights against his opposite Morris and provide the Raiders a miracle last effort win.
RAIDERS FINALLY WIN A CLOSE GAME
After leading 16 -0 last week against the Broncos and losing, the Raiders season was on life support, and this was a must win game. They have lost four games this season by two points or less. Eight potential points which could have had them sitting well in the top 8. This win allows them to keep hoping.
BULLDOGS HORROR SEASON CONTINUES BUT SOME LIGHT CAN BE SEEN
Although another loss for the Bulldogs, their attack the past two weeks has been exciting. Lachlan Lewis and Jeremy Marshall-King in the halves has added some exciting attack. Rhyse Martin scoring three tries with a personal tally of 24 points provides the Bulldogs fans hope for the future.
INJURIES & POSSIBLE SUSPENSIONS
Canberra, fullback and former Bulldog Brad Abbey stretchered off late with concussion, prop Shannon Boyd failing to finish the game due to a calf injury, and Joe Tapine facing possible suspension for a dangerous throw. Michael Lichaa came off early with what seemed a neck injury, but returned to complete the game.
IS THE FINAL 8 FINAL?
The Raiders are now four points out of the eight, pending the Gold Coast and Brisbane game on Sunday. If the Gold Coast win, the four point gap remains and provides hope for the Raiders, with a superior For and Against to the Broncos. With eight games remaining, the top 8 may not yet be settled.
Canberra Raiders 32
Tries: Sam Williams, Jarrod Croker (2), Nick Cotric, Blake Austin, Joseph Tapine, Joseph Leilua
Goals: Jarrod Croker 4/6
Drop Goals: n/a
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28
Tries: Jeremy Marshall-King, Rhyse Martin (3)
Goals: Rhyse Martin 6/6
Drop Goals: n/a
Canberra Raiders: 1 Brad Abbey, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker, 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Michael Oldfield, 6 Sam Williams, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Dunamis Lui, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Shannon Boyd, 11 Joseph Tapine, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Siliva Havili Interchange: 14 Blake Austin, 15 Junior Paulo, 16 Liam Knight, 17 Iosia Soliola
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: 1 Will Hopoate, 2 Brett Morris, 3 Kerrod Holland, 23 Josh Morris, 5 Reimis Smith, 6 Lachlan Lewis, 7 Jeremy Marshall-King, 8 Aiden Tolman, 9 Michael Lichaa, 10 Danny Fualalo, 11 Josh Jackson, 12 Rhyse Martin, 13 Adam Elliott Interchange: 14 Fa’amanu Brown, 15 Clay Priest, 16 Ofahiki Ogden, 17 Greg Eastwood