Raiders v Bulldogs: Five key points
Canterbury beat Canberra in a 13-try Telstra Premiership thriller in Round 11. Here are five key points from the amazing clash at GIO Stadium.
One of the 'craziest games of rugby league ever'
It was a 75-point thriller in the nation's capital on Sunday afternoon. By the end of the rollercoaster ride Channel Nine's Phil Gould couldn't take it anymore declaring it, "the craziest game of rugby league I've ever seen".
And he's not alone in that assessment. In an Origin-affected round that has so far seen two of the most dour encounters of the season, the Raiders and Bulldogs didn't let anyone down.
The Bulldogs were up 26-nil after just 17 minutes, absolutely blowing the favoured Raiders off the park in the early exchanges. However the home side wouldn't give up, and on the back of a high completion rate and 17 offloads fought their way back into it. In the final 10 minutes they had far more energy than the Bulldogs and it only looked a matter of time until they took a winning lead.
Few would have expected what would come next. Blake Austin missed his field-goal attempt before Josh Reynolds nailed his from out wide in the final minute of the match. To rub salt into the wound, Moses Mbye then took the ensuing kick-off 60 metres downfield to give the game its final 41-34 score-line.
Tolman exemplifies Bulldogs winning attitude
No Josh Morris, Josh Jackson, David Klemmer, Trent Hodkinson, James Graham… no worries for the Bulldogs.
They were widely written off before the match, particularly with the late withdrawals of leader Graham and Chase Stanley, but the Bulldogs looked nothing like a half-strength side against the Raiders. They blasted out of the blocks to put on 26 early points, and benefited from strong performances from stop-gap players.
However there is no Bulldogs player who exemplifies their underrated, hard-working and tough persona than Aiden Tolman. Coming into the match as the only NRL player in the top 10 for both tackles and hit-ups, Tolman was everywhere against Canberra. He had 24 runs for 200 metres, 39 tackles and was constantly tracking back in cover defence.
Josh Reynolds thrives with Origin-pressure relaxed
Widely critiscised in the lead-up to Origin for trying too hard and making some bad choices in an attempt to impress Blues selectors, Josh Reynolds had a brilliant game on Sunday afternoon with the selection pressure relaxed.
Laurie Daley would be wishing the fiery five-eighth could have put on performances like that before Origin. Nevertheless, Reynolds should be pleased, he was everywhere for the Bulldogs on Sunday. He was a nemesis in defence against Canberra captain Jarrod Croker and also ran the ball hard.
Most importantly however, Reynolds was the man who called for the ball and had the audacity to attempt an extremely difficult field goal from a sharp angle to win the game. Reynolds also had 10 runs, four tackle busts, a linebreak and two tries to cap off a well-rounded performance.
Raiders offloaded their way back into it
After going down 26-nil early the Raiders needed a change of strategy to spark them back into the match. Against an under-strength but still dominant Bulldogs pack the Raiders turned to the offload and short passes at the line to counter their big opponents.
In the end they offloaded the ball 17 times while also managing to complete at an impressive 83 per cent to score 34 points and give themselves a chance in the match.
Shaun Fensom was particularly impressive in keeping the ball alive, getting four offloads away while also running the ball 19 times for 185 metres and making 50 tackles. It was a particularly hard-working performance from the Raiders unheralded workhorse.
Blake Austin continues to show ball-running skill
It wasn't enough to steal victory for his team on Sunday, but Blake Austin was once again doing what he does best against the Bulldogs. Talked up in the pre-game show by Immortal halfback Andrew Johns for his run-first preference with the ball in hand, Austin let no-one down in the high-scoring thriller.
His try-scoring effort in particular summed up his unique ball-running ability. He turned back inside in perfect time to claim a Sisa Waqa inside ball and flew through two defenders before blasting over Bulldogs fullback Sam Perrett to put the ball down for his sixth try of the season. The fact that Perrett struggled to get up after the hit showed Austin's dynamic power.
All up, the ex-Tigers playmaker had six tackle breaks in his 11 runs and continues to impress for the Raiders.