Injuries strike as Raiders edge Panthers
The Canberra Raiders have prevailed in a Round 1 thriller, edging out a spirited Penrith Panthers outfit 30-22 in Canberra.
New recruit Aidan Sezer starred for the home team, scoring two tries and stepping up in the absence of Blake Austin who was forced off the pitch midway through the match with a medial ligament injury.
The Panthers meanwhile lost star hooker James Segeyaro to a fractured arm.
Played in 36-degree temperatures, the game was always going to be won by the team with the most mental toughness, and that was the advantage the Raiders had in the dying moments.
A final-play try to iron man Shaun Fensom sealed the deal after a tense final 20 minutes, which saw both teams locked up late in the game.
The Panthers played tough and scored some nice tries with silky smooth passing, particularly on the edges where the skill of their back row was obvious.
Trent Merrin, the game's other star recruit, was great for Penrith, doing plenty of the tough stuff in the middle and scoring a nice try.
However it wasn't enough for the visitors, the Raiders holding out late thanks to Sezer and a dominant forward pack.
The Panthers opened their account with a penalty from in front, but the Raiders hit back soon after, and their first try of the season had Blake Austin written all over it.
The star five-eighth showed up a number of times in a movement that ended with Edrick Lee sneaking over in the corner after a late Josh Papalii offload.
The Canberra pivot was at it again in the 18th minute, starting off a length-of-the-field movement with a half break earning a penalty, before finishing off the set with a tough try down the other end of the field.
Skipper Jarrod Croker again converted to take Canberra out to a 12-2 lead.
Midway through the first half it was looking like the Raiders could run away with it, but a long break from Penrith flyer Will Smith sparked a fight-back.
Just 22 minutes into his Panthers career, Merrin put the Panthers back onto the scoreboard, diving over after a superb short ball from James Segeyaro.
Sezer then hit back for the Raiders, combining brilliantly with Papalli and Jarrod Croker to get his first try in the lime green.
And the scoring see-saw ride continued, Peta Hiku the next recruit to cross the line late in the first half after some silky smooth passing down the left edge Penrith attack.
That score and Jamie Soward's subsequent conversion and late penalty had the game locked up at 16-all at half-time.
The Raiders couldn't have started the second half any worse, conceding a number of penalties before allowing in a try and seeing their star player Austin limping from the field.
The Panthers scored through Josh Mansour after keeping the ball alive nicely, but the knee injury to Austin was a more disastrous blow to Canberra.
The Raiders brought on Kurt Baptiste to cover for their playmaking loss and over the ensuing 10-minute period the Raiders covered nicely for Austin.
Sezer was forced to step up and that he certainly did, dragging a number of opposition players over the line to bring the Raiders back level with half an hour remaining.
That score would be a double blow to Penrith with star hooker Segeyaro forced from the field with a fractured arm.
Both teams engaged in an arm wrestle, as well as some push and shove over the next few passages before Croker broke the deadlock with a couple of penalty goals to take the Raiders out to a four-point lead before Fensom's try finished off the contest.
Canberra Raiders 30 (Sezer 2, Lee, Austin, Fensom tries; Croker 5 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 22 (Merrin, Hiku, Mansour; Soward 5 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 11,297.