Raiders comeback sinks gutsy Eels
Canberra have overcome an 18-4 half-time deficit to gallop home over the top of a gutsy Eels outfit 28-18 at GIO Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The absence of form hooker Josh Hodgson to a one-game suspension looked like costing Canberra dearly as a disorganised Raiders outfit was stunned by an early blue and gold avalanche but the Green Machine sparked into life in the second half as skipper Jarrod Croker's virtuoso performance helped his outside man Brenko Lee to a stunning four-try haul.
Man of the match Croker was in everything, producing three sublime flicks passes for three of Lee's tries and crashed over for one of his own. The only blight on his game was a poor return of two goals from six shots off the kicking tee.
The Eels came to play, as they have virtually every week this year despite well publicised off-field tribulations and a massive proportion of their salary cap sidelined. They were arguably the better team for much of the game but it was a four-try burst in under 20 minutes early on in the second half that proved the difference.
Parramatta's right edge defence was cut to ribbons by Croker, to the point that right centre Vai Taoutai was eventually switched with left centre Michael Jennings to stop the rot.
The bright start for Parramatta was kicked off by an early line break conjured by Clint Gutherson down the right edge followed by a brace of penalties against the home team, which piled on some early pressure.
When Blake Austin made a hash of a Jeff Robson grubber, Michael Jennings was on hand to open the scoring.
A nice Robson cut-out ball on the left side shortly after created the space for the returning Semi Radradra to get his name on the score sheet and the Eels were surprise 10-nil leaders inside 15 minutes.
A nice Isaac De Gois offload immediately after the restart sent Gutherson screaming through a gap and it was only a forward pass from Bevan French on an attacking sweep that denied the Eels a third early try.
Some poor defence on the blue and gold right flank almost handed Brenko Lee the Raiders' first try but the winger's foot scraped the sideline in the act of grounding and instead a Radradra line break and a supporting French made it 16-0 to the visitors inside 20 minutes.
A miracle flick pass from Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker finally helped Lee open the home side's account shortly after. The frenetic start settled somewhat from there and a Michael Gordon penalty goal was the only further scoring play of the half as the Eels took an 18-4 advantage to the sheds.
That lead was more remarkable given Parramatta's woeful 58 per cent completion rate in the first half; despite the Raiders completing at a lofty 88 per cent they held just 43 per cent of the ball.
Needing a positive start to the second half, Canberra got exactly that as Croker ran in off a Joey Leilua pass to make it 18-10.
The Raiders earned the bounce of the ball when a kick deflected off the Eels defensive line and fell into the hands of Josh Papalii. Croker in support produced one of his deft flick passes for Lee's second try of the day.
Lee's hat-trick came less than 10 minutes later when Croker beat Toutai one on one and flicked again out to Lee. The winger had his fourth soon after when he ran in off a Jack Wighton cut-out ball and the home side claimed the lead for the first time after 63 minutes.
When the Eels fluffed a bomb in the 70th minute, Sia Soliola had an easy run to the line and the 28-18 comeback was complete.
The Eels still refused to go down without a fight and in a frantic final 10 minutes produced several line breaks predominantly through Radradra, while Robson forced a couple of repeat sets, but in a marked difference to the start of the game the Raiders' defence held firm to cling on for an amazing eighth straight win that books them a top-four finish and keeps their chances of a top two finish alive.
Canberra Raiders 28 (Lee 4, Croker, Soliola tries; Croker 2 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 18 (Jennings, Radradra, French tries; Gordon 3 goals) at GIO Stadium. Half-time: Parramatta 18-4. Crowd: 18,825.