Canberra coach Ricky Stuart admitted he felt a sense of relief for club debutant Ryan James that he made it through his first NRL game in 678 days unscathed.
James' career was left up in the air after suffering two ACL tears while with the Gold Coast Titans, before the Raiders threw the 29-year-old a lifeline for this season.
Playing 42 minutes off the bench in Canberra's 30-12 win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday, James capped his return and helped spark his new club's improved second half with a try right after the break.
"I was happy for him that he got through that match," Stuart said of James.
"He's worked extremely hard all off-season, he's just a real professional and what I admired about Ryan, he came to Canberra earlier than he needed to start preparing for his season.
Match: Raiders v Wests Tigers
Round 1 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
"He started training with our under 20s, you visualise they had with a guy such as his stature, 11 seasons as a NRL player and he's in the gym training with the 18 and 19-year olds."
Canberra has worked hard in the last three seasons to cultivate its depth in the forwards, with James no certainty to be in the 17 come round one when he arrived.
"I don't know when he expected to play NRL," Stuart said.
678 days in the making for Ryan James
"But he's worked his way through pre-season to be in the position to be in the side and for me I was just really happy for him that he got through what would have been a pretty nervous day for him because he's had some bad luck with those couple of knee reconstructions."
Josh Hodgson, who himself was returning in round one from an ACL injury last season, said he knows better than most what James has had to go through to keep his dream of playing still playing in the NRL alive.
"It's always nice to see a kid work so hard, still only be 29, but to see him work so hard after a couple of years out of the game, since round six 2019, to see him come back and not miss a beat is testament to how hard he's worked," Hodgson said.
"It was great to see him get over the line and see the big fella get excited and it was great to get the win for him."
Twice the Raiders were denied tries by the bunker under the new review structure, however, Stuart was not shying away from seeing the benefit of getting the right call.
"They got it right, if anybody wants to talk to me about the new rules, we were on the opposite end of them and they got it right unfortunately," he said.
Stuart praised the refs' approach to all games so far in round one, saying they are finding the right balance between policing the game and giving the fans what they want to see.
"Our game's not black or white. If you want to be black and white as a spectator, commentator, journalist the penalty count is going to be 55-60," he said.
Loose Wests Tigers pass leads to CNK sprinting away
"We've seen that two years ago when we had 30 or 40-odd penalties at Cronulla, we don't want that.
"We all want the continuity and attacking of it, but we also want to make sure we are respecting and appreciating defence."
The Raiders capitalised on an error riddled second half by the Wests Tigers sending 15,680 Canberra fans home happy with Jordan Rapana scoring a double.
Rapana scores as the Wests Tigers fail to clean up at the back
After a tense 6-all opening half the home side grabbed the game by the scruff of neck early in the second with James celebrating his 32nd career try in his long-awaited comeback as the Tigers collapsed thanks to a mounting error toll.
The visitors looked threatening at times, with plenty of aggression from Luciano Leilua and Joe Ofahengaue early. But too often Michael McGuire's men were their own worst enemies, with forced passes and attacking raids often breaking down before they could amount to points.
The impressive form of rookie fullback Daine Laurie was one bright spot and their new-look forward pack provided plenty of impetus but there are more questions than answers for coach Michael Maguire after a disappointing season opener.
The Tigers earned back-to-back sets on the Raiders line as they eventually broke through with Jacob Liddle crashing over from in close with the away side earning a 6-0 lead after 22 minutes.
New Tigers skipper Tamou came off for a HIA after he was collected in a case of friendly fire by Joey Leilua in a tackle, though he passed and was able to return later in the half.
The desperation of the Tigers as time ran out in the second half. led to the game-sealing try for the Raiders, with a forced pass seized upon by Curtis Scott, with Nicoll-Klokstad racing away and just touching down in the corner.
David Nofoaluma crossed untouched after an excellent pass from James Roberts with the Brooks' sideline conversion just sneaking inside the upright in the 72nd minute to keep the contest alive and the Tigers within two converted tries.
But they weren't able to set up a grandstand finish with the only further points coming via Jordan Rapana's double just before fulltime.