Raiders v Eels: Five key points
The in-form Raiders looked like slumping to a shock upset loss before a second-half blitz helped them storm home over the top of a gutsy Eels outfit at GIO Stadium. Here are five talking points from Canberra's 28-18 win.
Croker in command
Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker is a man at the top of his game right now. Plenty of teams would have panicked at 18-4 down but Croker rallied his teammates and led from the front, scoring the first try of their second-half blitz before laying on two more for his outside man Brenko Lee.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart credited the skipper for giving the team the belief to stage the comeback.
"A lot of teams wouldn't have got out of that today," Stuart said.
"Parramatta were playing very good, they had a lot of ball early on us and the character we showed in that second half was unbelievable.
"The way Jarrod's got his team so tightly bonded and it's a credit to what he's done as a leader of that group because they're a real tight knit bunch who play for each other. We couldn't have got out of it if we didn't but we played some good footy in the second half."
Second-half woes continue for Eels
Eels coach Brad Arthur wouldn't have been feeling safe at 18-4 ahead given his team's second-half fadeout last week against Brisbane, which saw them trail just 14-10 at half-time before a horror 24-6 second half.
The loss a fortnight earlier to Wests Tigers saw them trail by six at half-time but fail to score a second-half point in that 23-8 result. Against Penrith in Round 19 it was again a second-half fade costing them a win, going to the break 18-6 up before a dire 16-0 second half saw them run down 22-18.
And back in Round 17 the Eels shot out to an 18-0 lead at Cronulla, and while they did lose the second half comfortably the comeback started well before the break as the Sharks ran in five unanswered tries between the 26th and 69th minutes.
Arthur won't be looking for excuses but the number of players unavailable for the blue and gold looks to be making it hard for the Eels to stay in games even when they do stake out an early lead.
Croker breaks record despite off day at the tee
You won't often see sharpshooter Croker go two from six goal attempts but luckily for the Raiders it didn't prove costly. In fairness the missed shots were all from at or near the sideline but Croker would normally back himself to get most of those.
However the eight points he accrued from his try and two successful shots were significant – they moved him to 248 points for the season with two regular season games and anywhere from two to four finals games to come.
It moves him past the club-record 245 points racked up by Clinton Schifcofske in 2001, although the all-time record for any club – the mammoth 342 piled on by Canterbury's Hazem El-Masri in 2004 – is safe for this year.
Eels' right edge cut to ribbons
Raiders left winger Brenko Lee had a field day, running in four tries – which was agonisingly close to being five but his foot scraped the sideline as he attempted to score what would have been his first of the day early on.
Lee was the beneficiary of that man Croker, who produced three deft flick passes that even Matt Gidley, the most noted exponent of the move, would have been proud of.
Parramatta have struggled to put together anything resembling a consistent backline for most of the season, at times field two back-rowers in the centres, and on this occasion it was regular winger Vai Toutai playing at right centre having a tough time of it.
As exciting as try-scoring rookie winger Bevan French is, his reads in defence still need plenty of work and ideally he would have specialist right centre and defensive maestro Brad Takairangi playing inside him.
Takairangi will struggle to make it back from a hamstring strain in time to play any more footy this season but Arthur may need to come up with another option because he ended up switching Toutai with left centre Michael Jennings to get Toutai away from Croker, who ran rings around Toutai on Sunday and beat his man one-on-one to set up one of Lee's tries.
Semi back with a bang
It's been a year of serious highs and lows for Fijian flyer Semi Radradra but his impact – particularly coming out of their own territory – has been badly missed by the Eels over the five games he's been out with a knee injury.
His return to action on Sunday highlighted exactly what the Eels had been missing as the Semi Trailer racked up a match-high 223 metres, with three line breaks and one try.
It was a little bit rocks and diamonds as Radradra blew the cobwebs out with a match-high three errors as well and a fumble off a tough Manu Ma'u offload could potentially have led to what would have been an important 22-4 lead after 26 minutes.
No doubt Radradra's overall contribution was welcomed by the Eels though and he'll be better for the run heading into the final fortnight of Parramatta's season.