Raiders run riot over ravaged Titans
Only the Christians of Roman times know how the Titans felt on Saturday evening.
Rocked in the 24 hours prior to kick-off with the withdrawals of Kevin Proctor (hamstring) and Chris McQueen (back), Gold Coast took the field with $4 million of their $7 million salary cap sitting on the sidelines and were thrown to the lions, Jordan Rapana coming back to haunt his former club with a hat-trick in Canberra's 42-16 victory at Cbus Super Stadium.
There was an ominous sense of foreboding prior to kick-off as to what might eventuate against a powerful Raiders team unwilling to show any mercy and it took only seven minutes for Rapana to score his first try – and 25 to snare his third – as Canberra took full advantage of 65 per cent of the ball and an 89 per cent completion rate to lead 26-10 at half-time.
The two first-half tries that the Titans did score came completely against the run of play and had Canberra skipper Jarrod Croker's record-setting left boot not failed him early the scoreline heading into the second term could have looked much, much worse.
Canberra had more than double the run metres and half the number of tackles at half-time and a week after coach Ricky Stuart said that his side would not blow teams off the park any longer they turned the Titans' injuries into the ultimate insult.
Whatever response Titans coach Neil Henry was seeking came to fruition in the opening minute of the second half when first-half try-scorer Karl Lawton split the Canberra defence right up the middle and found Ash Taylor backing up on his inside to score underneath the posts.
However, Taylor's good work was undone shortly thereafter when an awful kick on the last tackle gifted Canberra a 20-metre restart and all the momentum and they put paid to any thought of a Titans fightback with a try to Elliott Whitehead in the 49th minute.
Seconds after Leivaha Pulu was penalised for a high tackle that could put the Titans' resources under further pressure and with Tyrone Roberts limping from the field with a suspected broken toe, Josh Papalii followed through to ground a Josh Hodgson grubber into the Titans' in-goal with winger Nick Cotric the beneficiary of another Titans error in the eight-try rout.
It took less than seven minutes for the Raiders to post first points of the game when Canberra attacked the right edge for the second time in the opening few minutes, Rapana fighting through some Gold Coast cover to score his fifth try of 2017.
Five minutes later Rapana had his sixth after a powerful set of six in which the likes of Papalii and Junior Paulo rumbled downfield. Leilua leapt high to claim Aidan Sezer's cross-field kick before quick hands from Paulo allowed Rapana to scamper across for his second.
It took a wayward Raiders pass and a 60-metre run from Tyronne Roberts-Davis to finally get the home side into Raiders territory and one play later they made the most of it with winger Anthony Don scoring acrobatically millimetres inside the right corner post to bring the score back to 8-4 through the opening quarter.
The Titans' failure to complete the set after points was compounded when Raiders forward Joe Tapine knocked the ball from Ash Taylor's grasp as he attempted to escape the in-goal after a Blake Austin grubber and the result soon after was Rapana's hat-trick inside 25 minutes.
The carnage continued from the very next set, Jack Wighton pushing past a half-hearted attempt at tackle from Taylor to score wide out and when Joey Leilua scored from the set following Wighton's try after a brilliant piece of play involving Rapana and Whitehead, the lead was 26-4 with eight minutes left in the half.
Incredibly, with just 26 per cent possession through 33 minutes the Titans were gifted another look at the Raiders' end through an error and again they came away with points, Karl Lawton pushing his way over from dummy-half left of the posts.
Whatever excuses the Titans could make there was no reason for the basic missed tackles and fundamental errors that continually brought their efforts to get back into the game undone, failing to secure loose balls, throwing horrible offloads when it was clearly not the right option and falling off tackles that for the first time this season brought their commitment to the cause under question.
Despite the lopsided nature of the scoreline there were a couple of positives for the Titans with Lawton looking sharp at dummy-half and Paterika Vaivai coming up with plenty of strong carries in his first game in the NRL since Round 18, 2015.
The Raiders did what was expected of them in largely clinical fashion and can now look forward to a happy homecoming against the Warriors on Easter Saturday.
Canberra Raiders 42 (Jordan Rapana 3, Jack Wighton, Joey Leilua, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii, Nick Cotric tries; Aidan Sezer 5 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 16 (Anthony Don, Karl Lawton, Ashley Taylor tries; Taylor 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Half-time: Raiders 26-10. Crowd: 12,390. Holden Cup: Titans 32-24.