Titans v Raiders: Five key points
Josh Papalii entering realms of rugby league elite, highs and lows of Dally M contenders, Titans won't look overseas for help in outside backs and Ricky Stuart comes to defence of sin-binned Bird.
Papalii joins rugby league's elite
It is said that the true mark of an Origin player is not so much what they achieve in the interstate arena but the leadership they display back at club level and Canberra back-rower Josh Papalii is ticking both boxes at present.
His two best Origin performances for Queensland have come in the two games of this year's series and he followed up Wednesday night's blockbusting performance with an 80-minute effort in the Raiders' eight-point win.
His 113 running metres were the most of any Canberra forward on Sunday and coach Ricky Stuart said his growth has become evident to everyone in rugby league.
"It's there for everyone to see but his maturity probably started this off-season when he came to training day one healthy. He didn't let himself go over the break and I gave them a long break this year," Stuart said.
"He came to training ready to train and that was the first sign of 'Papa' turning the corner. Papa is only a young guy and his maturity is starting to evolve now and he's not only looking after himself he's starting to talk amongst the group.
"We use the term 'leader' a lot – probably too much – but he's a guy that a lot of players look up to now and they're confident that when they run onto the football field with him, they love crossing the sideline with him."
Tough afternoon for Dally M contenders
They are two unlikely front-runners for the 2016 Dally M Medal and Ryan James and Josh Hodgson endured mixed fortunes on Sunday afternoon. Tied on 14 Dally M points with Andrew Fifita, Corey Norman and Cooper Cronk going into Round 16, James and Hodgson were again among their team's strongest performers but each had to come from the field after suffering heavy head knocks.
Hodgson was dangerous around the ruck as the Raiders dominated the opening 15 minutes and laid on the first try for Paul Vaughan with a beautiful pass from dummy-half. His game came to an end after 57 minutes when he was sent reeling after trying to make a tackle on Titans prop Luke Douglas and was deemed unfit to return.
James was again a tower of strength up front for the Titans, running for 190 metres with seven tackle busts, making 36 tackles and a try 11 minutes from full-time that gave the Titans a glimmer of hope of making a comeback.
Titans won't issue a SOS to Sarginson
Titans coach Neil Henry ruled out making a play for Gold Coast-bound England international Dan Sarginson prior to the June 30 transfer deadline after the stocks of his outside backs suffered another heavy hit on Sunday. Left centre Nathan Davis suffered a suspected dislocated ankle and broken leg after 22 minutes with fullback William Zillman a pre-game withdrawal with a foot injury.
Although Zillman is expected to be fit to play the Warriors next Saturday in Auckland, the Titans now have Davis (ankle), David Mead (knee), John Olive (shoulder), Konrad Hurrell (calf) and Greg Leleisiuao (ACL) on the injured list but Henry said Sarginson – who has signed a two-year deal starting in 2017 – will not be the solution.
"I don't think we're going to get him before June 30," said Henry.
Under-20s fullback Brian Kelly, winger Leva Li and Burleigh Bears centre Sami Sauluima will all come into contention to play the Warriors according to Henry.
Numbers don't lie according to Ricky
Their brazen willingness to attack from almost any point on the field has the ability to send coaches to a psychiatrist but coach Ricky Stuart said that the Raiders won't reach their full potential until they nail the basics.
With their big forwards rolling up-field Canberra effectively choked the Titans out of the contest in the opening 15 minutes when they monopolised the use of the football with more than 70 per cent of possession and completed 16 of their opening 19 sets at more than 84 per cent.
Their early dominance may not have shown immediately on the scoreboard but it sapped precious energy out of the Titans' defence who were battling to cover for the lack of a genuine centre on either side of the field.
The Raiders completed 11 of their opening 12 sets and restricted the Titans to just seven uses of the footy over the same period and emphasised to Stuart how dangerous they can be when they get the simple areas of the game right.
"The only way we're going to unearth the real talent of this squad is by being statistically good," Stuart said. "I know there have been a lot of games this year where we've really made it difficult on ourselves and when you go back and have a look at the statistics you can see why we didn't win the match. Then we're only just out of the match.
"We make games so much harder for ourselves at times where today albeit in a very, very tough contest we wouldn't have been as dominant if we'd made unforced errors again."
Stuart sticks up for sin-binned Bird
Titans coach Neil Henry was mystified to why Greg Bird was sin-binned 15 minutes from full-time and Raiders coach Ricky Stuart leapt to the Blues back-rower's defence, saying his aggression helped to drag the Titans back into the contest.
After consecutive confrontations with young Raider Joseph Tapine midway through the second half Bird was given 10 minutes to cool his heels by referee Bernard Sutton with Canberra leading 30-10 and going in for the kill.
The Titans were actually the ones to score during Bird's stint in the bin and Stuart thought it was his aggressive stance that inspired his Gold Coast teammates to finish the game strongly.
"'Birdy' got them back into it. He's a wonderful competitor," Stuart said.
"It's no secret that I love 'Birdy', he's a great player, he's a very, very, fiercely competitive fellow and his aggression probably got his team fired up a little bit and got them back into the contest in a slight way.
"I was proud of my couple of young blokes too, they didn't take a backward step and nor will they."