A huge 24-point haul for Bulldogs back-rower Rhyse Martin was not enough for Canterbury as Canberra scored three tries in the last six minutes to seal a stunning 32-28 comeback win at Belmore Sportsground on Saturday night.
Martin's three tries and perfect six goals from six attempts looked to have sealed Canterbury's second straight win at 28-14 after 73 minutes but a sensational cameo off the bench from Blake Austin hauled his side back into contention before a Joey Leilua try right on full time stole the win.
Austin was dropped to the bench this week after a horror showing in last week's capitulation against Brisbane but proved the match-winner with a turbo-charged 15-minute spell after coming on for Sam Williams, scoring one try and creating space for the final match-winner with a line break as the Raiders surged home.
There was bad news for Canberra, with fullback and former Bulldog Brad Abbey stretchered off late with concussion, prop Shannon Boyd failing to finish the game due to a calf injury, and Joe Tapine facing a likely suspension for a dangerous throw.
The match started poorly for the Green Machine as Williams kicked out on the full in the third minute and Jeremy Marshall-King sliced through some soft defence off a scrum play in the eighth minute.
Match: Bulldogs v Raiders
Round 17 -
Venue: Belmore Sports Ground, Sydney
When Jarrod Croker received a nice long ball and run over the top of opposite man Kerrod Holland to send Williams away in the 20th minute the Raiders drew level despite sitting at barely 30% of possession at that stage.
A lifting tackle by Joseph Tapine on Michael Lichaa saw him placed on report; just two games back from a two-game ban and with 85 carry-over points still hanging over him as well as three previous charges (including one for an identical offence), even a grade one charge would see him miss a minimum of two games.
The Dogs reclaimed the lead on the back of a few quick penalties and an easy two points for Rhyse Martin in the 27th minute.
Despite having dominated the opening half hour Canterbury soon found themselves trailing as Croker again ran over Holland; a superb Aidan Sezer cut-out ball got him in space and Holland couldn't handle the Raiders skipper one-on-one close to the line.
While the home side was arguably unlucky to trail at the break, a penalty from the first play of the second half allowed them to attack and a nice short ball from Lachlan Lewis sent Rhyse Martin on a tackle-busting run to the lead for a 14-10 advantage in the 42nd minute.
A Croker offload near the Dogs line got Nick Cotric one-on-one with Holland and the young winger continued the Canterbury centre's tough evening with a powerful finish to draw his side level at 14-14.
While the game was tied up heading into the final quarter, a Joey Leilua brain explosion followed by two tries in four minutes to PNG international Martin blew it apart.
Leilua lost the ball in the play-the-ball right on the Dogs' line as Canberra desperately searched for a try to reclaim the lead and compounded his error with backchat to the officials that saw his side marched downfield.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Raiders - Round 17, 2018
Martin earned his second try of the game when Brett Morris batted back a Lewis kick, converting for a 20-14 advantage.
From the very next set Martin started and finished a length-of-the-field movement, producing a nice pass to Josh Morris with the centre busting a few tackles before passing back to an unmarked Martin to streak away and bag his hat-trick.
The Raiders continued to bring themselves undone, coming up with errors on the attack, and Martin stretched the Dogs out to a seemingly unassailable 14-point advantage with seven minutes to play with a penalty goal.
However Raiders utility Blake Austin, injected into the game late, clawed one try back with a big step at the line in the 75th minute.
With another big set the Raiders threw some more attack at the Bulldogs but fullback Brad Abbey was tackled on the last as he tried to score and concussed in the process, with the game held up for several minutes while he was attended to and stretchered off.
Tapine crashed over with just two minutes to play to set up a grandstand finish and the Raiders rampaged downfield off the back of Austin's line break. The scattered Canterbury defence could not recover and as the Raiders went right, Leilua earned redemption for his earlier brain fade as he crashed over the top of the Morris twins to plant the ball down and steal the result.
News &Notes: The Bulldogs are aiming for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018... Raiders winger Nick Cotric has now scored at least one try in his past eight games...the Bulldogs have won only one of their past six games at Belmore.... Raiders prop Junior Paulo will play his 100th NRL game... Joe Tapine was placed on report for a lifting tackle... next week Bulldogs host Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium... Raiders at home to Cowboys in round 18... Crowd 10,145