Rabbitohs v Raiders: Five key points
A desperate Canberra side ended up being far too good for a lacklustre Souths, who were their own worst enemies for much of their 32-16 loss to the Green Machine at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Raiders halves recapturing their mojo
For much of 2017, the Raiders' woes have been largely mirrored by their halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer – plenty of talent but just not quite clicking on the field. That has been turning around in recent weeks; it has mostly coincided with a switch of sides with Austin moving to the left and Sezer to the right.
The turning point was a golden point win at home against the Dragons in which Sezer in particular – who had endured the greater struggles in 2017 – starred with a long-range try and clutch, match-winning 40/20 kick.
"I thought my two halves were excellent… I was really happy for them," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said after the win.
"We've been doing a lot of work, not putting pressure on them but having them understand the accountability of performance and areas of the game. I thought their kicking game and passing game was first class and they were a big part of our win, both halves."
Massive turning point wrecks Souths comeback
Having scored in the 50th minute to get it back to 20-12 after not looking particularly competitive for much of the game, Souths were then on the wrong end of a massive double whammy that effectively ended their comeback hopes.
Halfback Adam Reynolds was collected by a Josh Hodgson swinging arm while running the ball and in the process had the ball stripped as he lay dazed, and had to be taken from the field for a head injury assessment.
Shortly after he went off, the Raiders attacked the right edge where he usually defends, and a long-range Nick Cotric run was eventually snuffed out by a scrambling Angus Crichton who was then sin-binned for holding on too long in the tackle.
In the post-match press conference, Souths coach Michael Maguire teed off on the officials for not stopping play while Reynolds was down but also conceded the team did not give themselves much of a chance with their execution.
Two clubs, two games, two tries
Journeyman winger Michael Oldfield's 2017 season makes for unusual reading. He has played just two NRL games and has a try in each. And both times against the Rabbitohs.
It just happens they were for different teams.
In Round 6 (the game in which Penrith suspended three senior players for breaking team rules in Melbourne) Oldfield was called up in the absence of Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Tyrone Peachey (with Peta Hiku and Josh Mansour on the injured list at that point) and bagged a try against the Bunnies.
In search of greater opportunity he left Penrith for Canberra mid-season; named in the 17 last week he never got onto the field but on Saturday with Jordan Rapana suspended he took his chance, latching onto a superb Aidan Sezer cut-out to score once again against the Rabbitohs in what may well be his last NRL game of the year, pending further injury or suspension dramas in Canberra's back five.
Burgess loss adds to Souths woes
The Rabbitohs' struggles were not helped by the loss of skipper Sam Burgess early in the second half with a recurrence of the rib injury that threatened to rule him out pre-game.
After the game, Maguire admitted Burgess probably should not have played while the man himself, while downcast, did not rule out lining up against the Dragons next week.
"Sam probably shouldn’t have played but he puts his hand up for this club," Maguire said.
"We have great medical staff and they assess it each week. Sam has been around for a long time and he knows what he needs to do. When Sam says he is right, he’s right."
Added Burgess: "We'll just take it day by day through the week and see how we go."
Fringe Raiders step into the breach
Aside from the loss of Rapana to a one-game suspension, Canberra were also without suspended back-row pair Sia Soliola and Josh Papalii.
It meant more work for some fringe Canberra forwards and plenty of those players stepped up admirably in a game where the Raiders easily could have let the Bunnies pack boss the middle of the park.
Joe Tapine was a standout; playing the full 80 minutes the former Knight racked up 139 metres and four tackle busts. Pushing up in support of a kick landed him an opportunistic and important try midway through the first half while his powerful line break led to Nick Cotric's try shortly before half-time.
Luke Bateman (who also bagged a try) and Clay Priest had plenty of work to do as well while Dave Taylor made the most of his 23 minutes late in the game with a rapid 104 metres and two offloads.
"It was their turn to step up and they had to step up," Stuart said.
"If they want to be an NRL player with us they've got to step up and play like an NRL player. I was really proud of them actually."