Cotric stunner seals Raiders victory
He promised to not prematurely celebrate scoring a try after his maiden four-pointer in the NRL but Raiders winger Nick Cotric couldn't help himself when he snared his second, a brilliant individual effort to seal Canberra's all-important win over Parramatta at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
Having led 22-6 at half-time courtesy of a seven-minute, three-try burst late in the first half the Raiders were struggling to keep the Eels at bay before Cotric took a simple run from dummy-half 35 metres out from the Parramatta try-line that didn't finish until he planted the ball underneath the posts.
Perhaps in disbelief more than anything, the left arm of Cotric shot up to salute as a reflex, the conversion from Jarrod Croker restoring Canberra's 10-point advantage after the Eels had launched a fightback of their own to score twice in the space of five minutes early in the second half.
Starting the second half trailing 22-6, a Corey Norman 40/20 with his team under pressure swung momentum back the way of the Eels and the elusiveness of Bevan French again led to points, the Parramatta No.1 breaking free of the Canberra defence to put Josh Hoffman across for his first try for the club six minutes into the second half.
A penalty late in the next set gave the Eels another crack at the Canberra defence and again the home side caved, Kaysa Pritchard making the most of a powerful charge from Siosaia Vave to dive over from dummy-half next to the posts and reduce the margin to just four points after 53 minutes.
The Eels had the better of possession and territory but couldn't find the additional blow to edge in front and on a day when the Raiders celebrated their proud history, it was an 18-year-old player of the future that came up with the match-winner.
A penalty goal to Croker extended the lead to 12 points and when the Bunker ruled that Blake Austin had prevented Norman from scoring three minutes from full-time the Raiders had sealed their second win of the season in front of 17,653 fans.
Prior to kick-off Parramatta made a couple of late adjustments after Tepai Moeroa was ruled out with a back injury and captain Beau Scott dropped back to the bench to allow Nathan Brown to start.
On the back of their first penalty of the game the Raiders scored in the sixth minute when in his 100th game Aidan Sezer went right to a retreating defence before dinking a kick in behind the Eels' line, the ball sitting up perfectly for Sia Soliola to snare the Steeden and plant the ball just inside the dead-ball line.
With possession running almost 70 per cent the way of the Raiders in the opening 12 minutes Rapana went close to enlarging the home side's lead but couldn't contort his body around the corner post before attempting to ground the ball.
Parramatta weren't without their chances in the early moments, Brad Takairangi knocking the ball forward after a Josh Hoffman tap back close to the try-line and Clint Gutherson's pass ruled forward as Corey Norman crossed in the 20th minute but when they did eventually get across the line legally it was in spectacular fashion.
Sparked by a Gutherson offload back near halfway Frank Pritchard linked with Nathan Brown down the right who in turn released Takairangi who threw a one-handed pass back inside to find Bevan French to score his third try of the season and level the scores after 25 minutes.
But just as the Eels had gained the ascendancy the combination of Joey Leilua and Rapana turned the match on its head with two spectacular pieces of play in the space of three minutes late in the first half.
Leilua first passed early to Rapana who tip-toed down the sideline before passing inside to an unmarked Blake Austin and then from the next set Leilua wrapped around to toe through a Rapana offload on the last tackle and hold off Semi Radradra long enough to score in the right-hand corner.
Another pushed offload inside their own half – this time from Nathan Brown – saw the Eels hand the Raiders another try-scoring opportunity five minutes from the end of the half and they took full advantage, Croker swooping on a Josh Hodgson grubber to score the 100th try of his NRL career.
Canberra Raiders 30 (Sia Soliola, Blake Austin, Joey Leilua, Jarrod Croker, Nick Cotric tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) def. Parramatta Eels 18 (Bevan French, Michael Jennings, Kaysa Pritchard tries; Clint Gutherson 3 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 17,653. Half-time: Raiders 22-6. Holden Cup: Raiders 42-22.