The Canberra curse continued for St George Illawarra as the Raiders came from 12-0 down to win 24-12 in one of the games of the season, if not the decade.
While the Green Machine fans can be and are obviously ecstatic with the result, they surely must be thinking ‘what if’ as they proved they can certainly mix it with the competition front-runners with a sensational performance.
If the upcoming semi-finals series games are half as good as this clash we are in for one hell of a ride.
In front of a big and energetic crowd of over 19,000 the first half was pure entertainment despite the fact the score read just 6-0 to the Dragons by the end of the period.
Defence, particularly from the Dragons was first class and we had fights, big hits, a Wendell salute, a knock-out, breaks, sin-binnings… you name it, it was in the first half of this blockbuster and it had everyone on the edge of their seats.
After absorbing all of the early pressure it appeared the Dragons would continue towards an eighth successive victory when Brett Morris scored the first try for the seventh time this season in the 16th minute. The Raiders had spent plenty of time attacking at the other end only to come up with nothing, yet when the Dragons ventured down into the attacking zone, a Jamie Soward kick was batted back to Darius Boyd who duly sent Morris over giving all and sundry the feeling the Dragons were once again bringing their ‘A’ game.
When Dean Young was sinbinned just minutes later the home side once again had plenty of chances to score but failed to capitalise – and the same can be said for the Dragons who failed to post points in the final 10 minutes of the half when Terry Campese was cooling his heels in the penalty box.
The second half was also awesome and while the Dragons started strongly, scoring early to move to a 12-0 lead, the Raiders produced a stunning three-try, 10-minute period which Dragons coach Wayne Bennett called ‘madness’ to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
There was another sin-binning and could easily have been two more as tempers continued to flare.
The Raiders claimed post-match the Dragons tried to bully their youngsters but if that was the tactic it failed as the younger Raiders were simply brilliant.
It stopped the Dragons’ win streak at seven and means they hold just a two-point advantage at the top of the ladder, while the Raiders ensured they won’t be anywhere near the wooden spoon.
With youngsters like Croker, Dugan, Waddell, Vidot, Thompson and McCrone on the books this side has a very bright future indeed.
The Game Swung When… Young Raiders centre Jarrod Croker showed some neat and nifty footwork to burst through Darius Boyd and Neville Costigan in the 48th minute and then sprint 35 metres to the line, palming off Jamie Soward in the process to start a 10-minute flurry for the home side.
Quick tries to Daniel Vidot and Dane Tilse had the Raiders in front 18-12 after trailing 12-0 and the huge crowd was abuzz.
The Dragons may have had more of a chance to turn the tide if the referees and sideline officials had seen a back-play incident between Josh Miller and Justin Poore in the 61st minute. Replays were inconclusive but it appeared Miller threw a punch after some initial grappling and he’d been told just seconds before that if he was seen to have thrown a punch he would have been sitting down. But with their limited knowledge of what occurred the officials awarded a penalty to the Raiders and the lead was stretched to eight thanks to a penalty goal.
Who Was Hot… This game was full of great players, making it hard to single out individuals – although Raiders centre Jarrod Croker and fullback Josh Dugan were both outstanding, especially considering their tender years.
Croker scored a brilliant try to get the Raiders back into the contest and ran for 178 metres, made two line breaks, nine tackle breaks and 15 tackles. Dugan covered 251 metres with ball in hand, had one line break and 12 tackle breaks and although the Dragons kept trying to punish him, he continually fronted up. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs was also strong for the home side in his return from injury, running for 123 metres and making 24 tackles.
The Dragons’ best was probably fullback Darius Boyd, with a try, 190metres, a try assist and seven tackle breaks. Dean Young also racked up 54 tackles despite spending 10 minutes in the sin bin.
Who Was Not… It seems unfair to put anyone here but if anyone can be criticised it would probably be the sinners Terry Campese and Jeremy Smith.
Campese had a solid game but it really is unforgivable to be sin-binned for backchat when the referee initially has no intention of sending you on your way.
As for Smith, he seemed to be intent on the niggle while he was on the field and his mini brain snap near the end, when he launched himself at Croker, could have seen him in trouble.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… There was plenty. You can read about the fights in Bad Boys so we’ll just concentrate on the tries here.
Darius Boyd kick-started the gems with a 70-metre kick-return special just after half time. The Queensland Origin and Australian Test rep hit the ball at pace and streaked through a gap before outpacing Dugan on his run to the line.
Croker then produced his 35-metre solo effort before the Raiders cleverly ran the ball right on the last tackle, with second-rower-come-centre Joel Thompson expertly releasing Daniel Vidot into the corner.
Then there was the Tilse try, which needed a great pick up and put down on the run from a spilled kick – the prop’s skill was almost enough to have him kicked out of the front-rowers’ union.
Injuries… Michael Weyman was knocked out from a head clash with Josh Miller in the first half but managed to sit on the bench for remainder of the clash.
The Raiders lost Scott Logan with a busted cheekbone which could just about end his season.
Bad Boys… Dean Young is certainly a fierce competitor but unlike his father Craig, Dean is not the type of player you’d usually see in a stink on the field. But this is exactly what happened after a frenetic opening 20 minutes, when Young dropped a big right on the chin of Terry Campese.
The punch came after Campese threw the ball at Young, which came after Young shoulder-charged Campese post-whistle – with the result being a stint in the sin bin for the Dragons’ hooker/back-rower.
Terry Campese and Jeremy Smith also spent time in the sin bin, Campese for dissent and Smith for repeated penalties, while Justin Poore and Josh Miller were probably lucky not to also have an enforced rest after a dust-up of their own.
Smith was also left sweating on the review of his high tackle on Dugan, which was the final straw before his banishment – however he escaped being charged by the NRL match review committee.
Refs Watch… Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor were forced to be a big part of the action, with 11 penalties coming in a torrid and fast-paced first half. But to their credit they managed to stay somewhat in control. When players pushed the envelope to the extremes (Dean Young and Terry Campese) they were dealt with swiftly and punished with the sin bin. When others tried to slow down the pace of the game, they were penalised.
But their decision-making was a little bit dusty at times in the second half, with Suttor harshly penalising the Raiders in the 54th minute when they pushed Wendell Sailor in-goal. And then the whole Miller/Poore incident was poorly managed, considering two referees and two sideline officials all missed the action.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarrod Croker (Raiders): The young centre was an obvious target for the Dragons, yet he managed to take all the punishment and be a major player in the result;
2 points – Josh Dugan (Raiders): Copped even more punishment than Croker but kept fronting up again and again. The future certainly looks good in Canberra; 1 point: Darius Boyd (Dragons): Had one of his better games in attack and could be an X-factor in the finals.
Raiders 24 (J Croker, D Vidot, D Tilse tries; T Campese 6 goals) def Dragons 12 (B Morris, D Boyd tries; J Soward 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 19,350.