Raiders score important win over Titans
Canberra have moved back into the Telstra Premiership top eight after accounting for a Titans team decimated by injury 30-22 at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday.
The Titans went into the game without fullback and co-captain William Zillman due to a foot injury, lost centre Nathan Davis with a suspected broken leg after a quarter of the game and Eddy Pettybourne and Ryan James spent time off the field for concussion tests, Pettybourne not able to return.
To make matters worse Gold Coast had to play 10 of the final 15 minutes with only 12 men after Greg Bird was sin-binned for consecutive run-ins with Raiders back-rower Joseph Tapine but the home side were actually the ones to cross with Bird off the field courtesy of Ryan James, his seventh of the season.
The Raiders weren't without their own injury dramas with Sia Soliola leaving the field midway through the first half with a left shoulder injury and interchange hooker Kurt Baptiste lasted only nine minutes before he had to replaced with a head knock and did not return but they had simply too much firepower for the under-manned Titans.
The pre-game withdrawal of Zillman saw Josh Hoffman move from the centres to fullback and Chris McQueen given the unenviable assignment of trying to keep Canberra centre Joey Leilua in check. The Titans' centre stocks were then reduced to zero after 22 minutes when Davis was stretchered from the field.
The reshuffle saw Agnatius Paasi come on in the back row and Zeb Taia shifted to right centre and two tackles later the Raiders extended their lead when Jarrod Croker leapt above Taia and winger Anthony Don to snare an Aidan Sezer bomb for his eighth try of the season.
The mismatch out wide again came back to haunt the Titans five minutes from half-time when a Canberra shift to the left and perfectly-timed pass from Jack Wighton allowed Croker to spear back on the inside of Taia, 20 metres out and stepped past Hoffman to score behind the posts.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart's rotation of his gigantic forward pack paid early dividends when the promoted Paul Vaughan strolled through some thin Titans goal-line defence inside the first five minutes with Croker's successful conversion handing the visitors a 6-0 advantage.
With less than 30 per cent of possession inside the first 14 minutes the Titans were in danger of being steamrolled before getting out of first gear but on the back of two penalties came away with points from their first genuine attacking raid in Raiders territory.
After spending four tackles trying to bash through from close range Tyrone Roberts went to the air on the last and found winger Nene Macdonald soaring above opposite Jordan Rapana to slam the ball down in the left-hand corner to reduce the margin to four points.
The Raiders were next to score courtesy of Croker and when the subsequent kick-off from Tyrone Roberts sailed over the dead-ball line the Raiders piled on further pressure, only a double-movement from Junior Paulo beside the posts preventing Canberra from adding to their tally.
The relieving penalty put the under-siege Titans on the front foot and in only their ninth set of the half found success again by taking the aerial route, McQueen latching onto a spill by Wighton to score wide out on the half hour mark.
The brave resistance of the Titans that saw them trail 18-10 at half-time took a mortal blow eight minutes into the second half when Canberra turned a seven-tackle set into a converted try to Brenko Lee at the other end of the field and a 14-point lead.
Lee's second seven minutes later came in controversial circumstances when Raiders players were pleading with the referees for play to stop as Josh Hodgson lay injury-prone when he came off second best in trying to tackle Luke Douglas.
With Hodgson doubled over the Titans shifted right and seemed certain to score but rather than Taia putting Anthony Don over in the corner Lee stuck out a left hand, regathered and raced 85 metres to seal the two competition points for Canberra.
The Titans reduced the final margin of victory to eight points through tries to James and a second to Macdonald but were left with too much to do after getting less than a 40 per cent share of possession through the first 40 minutes.
Canberra Raiders 30 (Jarrod Croker 2, Brenko Lee 2, Paul Vaughan tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 22 (Nene Macdonald 2, Chris McQueen, Ryan James tries; Tyrone Roberts 3 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Crowd: 12,645. Half-time: Raiders 18-10. Holden Cup: Raiders 34 def. Titans 32.