Injury-hit Raiders steal comeback win
The Canberra Raiders have defied a growing injury toll to snare their second straight close victory at home with a 21-20 victory over the Sydney Roosters.
Despite being without injured halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, and losing Shaun Fensom in the opening set of the match and debutant Lachlan Croker at half-time, the Raiders finished the stronger side after trailing 16-6 at the break.
After fighting back to draw level at 20-all a brilliant 40/20 by Josh Hodgson afforded them one final opportunity, before a calm drop goal from Sam Williams gave the game its final, deciding point.
And Canberra couldn't have been happier with their second home win to open the season, considering in 2016 they won just three times there.
The victory makes it the first time the Raiders have had back-to-back wins to start a season since 2005. Meanwhile the Roosters' horror run in Canberra continues, unable to win there since 2010.
Latrell Mitchell was their shining light in the first half, while Blake Ferguson was dangerous down the right edge, however the inexperience of their halves showed as the game wore on.
Both Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima were unable to set up a field goal in the final moments, before Williams did exactly that down the other end of the field.
The match started disastrously for the home team, with Fensom forced from the field in the first set of the game with concussion.
He would not be allowed back on the pitch, forcing Sia Soliola to take over his tackling-machine role.
The Roosters were first on the scoreboard in the sixth minute, scoring through Mitchell, who was moved from the wing to fullback before kick-off and barrelled over three Raiders defenders in a run reminiscent of some of Greg Inglis's best work.
The Raiders were sloppy with the ball over the first 20 minutes of the match and were ill-disciplined as well, conceding two penalties in front of the sticks to allow their opposition to go out to an 8-nil lead.
But the Green Machine trimmed it back to a two-point deficit somewhat against the run of play in the 25th minute.
After a long break from Jordan Rapana, Soliola barged over from close range to bring his side back into the game.
However just as the Raiders looked like fighting back into the contest the Roosters scored two in quick succession to close out the first half, including once through former Canberra star Blake Ferguson.
That double blow was compounded for the Raiders with debutant Lachlan Croker forced from the field with a shoulder injury after an unhappy first 40 minutes in the NRL.
The Tricolours led 16-6 at half-time, however the Raiders would hit back straight after the commencement of the second half when the Roosters failed to defuse a high kick.
Jarrod Croker claimed possession of the loose ball before Josh Papalii channelled his inner winger to dive over and plant the ball in the corner.
The next 10 minutes were a seesawing affair, as both teams engaged in an arm wrestle, but it was the Green Machine who struck again through Papalli. This time the big back-rower would score through more conventional methods, powering through off a short ball on the goal line.
That score brought Canberra back within two points, however some individual magic from boom youngster Jayden Nikorima extended the Roosters advantage in the 61st minute.
Nikorima exploited a mismatch on the edge for Sydney, burning Josh Hodgson for speed to score down the right side.
But the Raiders weren't done yet, Jarrod Croker scoring in the corner before converting his own try from the sideline to draw the Raiders level with 10 remaining.
The Roosters went dangerously close to the Raiders line in the final moments, however the Raiders playmakers managed the late minutes far better.
A magic play from Hodgson and some cool composure from Williams proved the difference at the end.
Dylan Napa was placed on report twice for a couple of high shots while Joey Lielua was placed on report for a spear tackle and was later sin-binned for a punch.
Canberra Raiders 21 (Soliola, Croker, Papalii 2 tries; Croker 2 goals) defeated Sydney Roosters 20 (Mitchell, Ferguson, Guerra; Mitchell 2 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 12,423