The Raiders made it three wins on the trot on Friday night with a relatively comfortable 30-18 win over an injury-ravaged Sea Eagles side at GIO Stadium. Jack Wighton produced his best game of the season to help team overcome a Manly side that refused to go away despite playing with a one-man bench for the final 25 minutes.
White hot Wighton scorches the Sea Eagles
After a couple of error-filled games, Raiders fullback Jack Wighton responded in style to play a starring role in his side's comfortable 12-point win.
The Canberra custodian set up tries for Brenko Lee and Josh Papalii; the latter coming three minutes after he'd leapt highest to score a try of his own from an Aidan Sezer kick.
Speaking to Channel Nine's Darren Lockyer after the game, Wighton said he was relieved to rebound from a couple of disappointing recent performances.
"It's been a bumpy season. I've had plenty of ups and downs. I'm happy to get that one in the bag," the Raiders No.1 said.
"I've been a bit negative on myself lately with ups and downs, so just staying positive when things go wrong [is what I tried to do]."
Wighton also came up with two try-saving tackles to deny Tom Trbojevic. The second one (in the 77th minute) came at a time when Manly were mounting a spirited fightback.
"I thought he was going to beat me back on the inside so I gave him that little bit of room which he took on so I was happy to get him," Wighton said.
"We've got a good squad down here and we've been doing all the right stuff. We just need to put away a few errors and we can put it to the best."
Injuries add to Manly's woes
Manly's first loss in Canberra since 2004 was made even worse by a number of injuries to key personnel.
Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans didn't return in the second half after suffering a high ankle sprain in the 35th minute. It's the second time this season he's suffered the injury and would be at long odds to be fit for next week's clash with the Panthers.
He was joined in the casualty ward by Brenton Lawrence who appeared to have injured his pectoral muscle midway through the first half.
Sea Eagles skipper Jamie Lyon was the third Manly player forced from the match when he limped off with a hamstring injury early in the second half and he was joined two minutes later by Jamie Buhrer, although the backrower was able to return after a head assessment test.
Junior Paulo looks mean in green
Former Parramatta Eels wrecking ball Junior Paulo wasted little time in impressing his new suitors with a powerhouse performance up front for the Raiders.
Having lost three kilos in his first week in the nation's capital, Paulo ran for 128 metres from 11 carries and had the honour of taking the game's first hit up.
His inclusion makes Canberra's pack one of the most formidable in the competition and if the early signs are any indication, he is set to prosper at his new club.
"All the boys and the club have been welcoming so it's made it a smooth transition," Paulo told Channel Nine's Brad Fittler after the game.
Manly refuse to throw in the towel
With one man left on the bench and trailing 30-6 with 26 minutes still to play, Manly could have easily imploded and conceded 50 or 60 points.
But to their credit the Sea Eagles fought bravely to not only stem the bleeding but also hit back to create plenty of tension amongst Raiders fans.
Matt Parcell was Manly's best on the night with 46 tackles and a try while Jake Trbojevic continued to firm as a future State of Origin star with 135 metres and 32 tackles in a gutsy 80-minute effort.
Manly's bench players also stood up with Siosaia Vave running for a 112 metres from a season-high 52 minutes. There were promising signs as well with Apisai Koroisau scoring a try in his first game back since Anzac Day.
Leilua wouldn't look out of place in sky blue
If NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley is searching for an attacking spark ahead of Origin II then he should look no further than Joseph Leilua.
The Raiders centre has been in career-best form in 2016 and must be pushing for higher honours.
Leilua increased his lead as the competition's best offload provider with another five on Friday night, with two of those leading directly to tries.
The 24-year-old played for City in 2012 and after getting his career back on track in Canberra must be in contention to add another representative jersey to his wardrobe.