On a spanking fine and crisply cool Sunday afternoon at Canberra Stadium, a healthy crowd witnessed an entertaining game which went down to the final seconds.
Though neither side’s defensive coaches will be doing handstands of joy, attacking play was in the ascendancy, both teams’ outside backs found space and there was ball movement aplenty. Top game of footy.
Following their upset win over Melbourne, knocking over another competition front-runner will do the Raiders’ confidence no harm at all. If they can translate their home form onto the road, they’re a good chance of snaring a top-eight berth. Big “if”, though…
The Titans lost this game in the first and last 10 minutes of the first half. They dropped too much ball and tackled poorly. The rest of the game they played pretty well but they allowed the Raiders’ big forwards too much space, and the home team’s backs were quick and good enough to exploit the go-forward. The Titans will welcome the likes of Luke Bailey back from injury.
The Game Swung When… Up 10-6 in the 28th minute, the Raiders pulled off a brilliant piece of backline play. From the play-the-ball on their 30-metre line, Marc Herbert passed to Alan Tongue who overlooked big decoy Tom Learoyd-Lahrs before passing to Terry Campese on the hop. The Raiders’ playmaker missed out another decoy before firing a beautiful cut-out pass to Jarrod Croker. The centre beat a couple of Titans defenders and then, a tiny corridor, beat Chris Walker and put flying Josh Graham away down the left, the long-striding winger out-pacing all and sundry on a scintillating run to the line.
With five minutes before half-time Titans prop Matthew White dropped the ball in the tackle (because of a poor carry) on his team’s 20-metre line. A few plays later nuggetty Raiders back-rower Josh Miller had bagged his second try adjacent to the posts after a bustling bullock to the line. Campese converted and it was 22-6.
Two minutes later Learoyd-Lahrs ran onto a one-handed Croker pop pass and plunged over before Campese made it 28-6.
The Titans out-scored the Raiders by 22-6 in the second-half to make it interesting and with another couple of minutes might have stolen the game. But the horse had bolted and done three laps of Queanbeyan before the Titans made their charge.
Who Was Hot… Raiders tyro Josh Dugan looked good at fullback. He’s not (yet) as elusive as Gary Belcher, but there are shades of the Raiders custodian in this current one.
Another former Green Machine fullback in Brett Mullins was channelled by Phil Graham who ran fast and with great effect down the Raiders’ left flank. He can definitely scoot, P.Graham, with his spine bent and head back he looks like a frill-necked lizard being chased by a viper.
Croker was effective down the left (two try assists) while Campese – most effective when he runs hard at the line – ran hard at the line and carried the ball in two hands to keep the Titans’ defence guessing.
All the Raiders’ forwards – whom should be in the cast if Baz Luhrmann ever makes a local version of Land of the Giants – performed strongly with Learoyd-Lahrs, Bronson Harrison (four offloads) and David Shillington prominent. But it was muscle-bound Raiders back-rower Josh Miller who was the standout, scoring his first and second tries for the season and punching into the Titans’ defence like a badger.
Allan Tongue made 47 tackles.
For the visitors, Scott Prince kicked well, both tactically and offensively, and Preston Campbell was creative out of five-eighth. Kevin Gordon ran hard down the left and saved a try by plucking the ball from Marc Herbert’s arms as he was falling over the line. David Mead was impressive on the other flank, as was Chris Walker.
But the Titans’ best was Anthony Laffranchi with a try, a try-assist, 40 tackles and a game-high 22 runs for 143 metres.
Who Was Not… The Titans’ hands let them down early – and it’s where they lost this game. Esi Tonga tried to bat a ball to someone who wasn’t there when catching it would have been the better option. Scott Prince threw an intercept pass that led to the Raiders’ first try. And Gordon dropped the pill in the tackle following a promising half-break.
Both sides conceded a “soft” try each, though denying rampaging forwards from one metre out is not an easy assignment.
The Titans won’t like looking at this match on tape – they gave the Raiders too much space, and the home side exploited it.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Two Terry Campese drop-outs went 60 metres on the fly. This without a whiff of wind.
Nobody tell Justin Carney’s mum about the replay of her lad breaking his ankle. Not pretty.
Gordon ripped the ball out of Monaghan’s arms then popped a neat pass to Preston Campbell. Monaghan will get a bit of a ribbing on video night.
Bad Boys… Learoyd-Lahrs was put on report for raising his elbow in the tackle, said body part looking like it crashed into the windpipe of Laffranchi. But replays showed it was the arm carrying the ball and the elbow seemed to slip up from Laffranchi’s chest. No further action.
Refs Watch… Nathan Friend was called – but not ruled – offside while pressuring Marc Herbert’s kick. Gordon caught the bomb but was tackled in the air by Monaghan – penalty Gold Coast. But shouldn’t it have been Canberra’s?
Josh Miller was penalised for a dangerous tackle that wasn’t dangerous but might have been had Laffranchi landed on his head.
But overall the officials had very good games.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarrod Croker (Raiders): Plenty of menace down the left hand side, created two tries and lots of headaches; 2 points – Anthony Laffranchi (Titans): Workaholic effort from the NSW back-rower; 1 point – Phil Graham (Raiders) : Ran like the proverbial hairy goat.
Raiders 34 (P Graham 2, J Miller 2, T Learoyd-Lahrs, B Harrison tries; T Campese 5 goals) def Titans 28 (D Mead 2, A Laffranchi, C Walker, P Campbell tries; S Prince 4 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 9,800.