The Raiders ensured Jack Wighton would celebrate his 200th game in style by downing Cronulla 24-19 in a thrilling contest at GIO Stadium on Friday night.
Wighton grabbed the opening try of the night and played a key role in the match-winner as the game went to the wire in a pulsating second half.
After dominating possession for the opening eight minutes the Raiders capitalised through Wighton, combining down the left side with Nick Cotric to post the opening four-pointer.
Some of the gloss was taken off the Green Machine's flying start with hooker Josh Hodgson forced from the field inside the first 10 minutes with a knee injury.
Winger Semi Valemei grabbed Canberra's second try in the 17th minute and the home side was out to a 12-0 lead.
A mistake by by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad handed the Sharks good field position and Blayke Brailey capitalised with a sharp try from the scrumbase which revived memories of Ben Barba's four-pointer in the club's 2016 grand final triumph.
Brailey scores with a sneaky scrum move
Just as the Sharks looked to be getting back into the contest it was Canberra who struck on the stroke of half-time when Tom Starling laid on a try for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad with a pinpoint grubber.
Trailing 18-6 the Sharks had to be next to score and it was fullback William Kennedy who obliged, turning on the afterburners to finish off good lead-up work by Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan in the 50th minute.
The Sharks' new halves pairing were at it again four minutes later when they combined to put back-rower Teig Wilton across and Hynes' conversion levelled the scores at 18-18.
Young snatches the lead late
With seven minutes to go and the game in the balance it was Moylan who stepped up, nailing his first field goal in six years to put the Sharks ahead 19-18.
The Raiders composed themselves and came up with a barnstorming try to Hudson Young to send the crowd into a frenzy before the Sharks launched one final raid only for Matt Ikuvalu to be denied by desperation Raiders defence in the left corner.
Match: Raiders v Sharks
Round 1 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
- Jack Wighton became the 13th man to play 200 games for the Raiders.
- Craig Fitzgibbon was forced to watch his first match as Cronulla coach from home after testing positive to COVID-19 during the week.
- The Raiders have now won seven on the trot against the Sharks.
- Raiders Josh Papalii and Semi Valemei were forced off for HIAs in the first half but both passed and were able to return to the game.
- Canberra's forwards dominated the early exchanges and went on to rack up big numbers with Papalii running for 137 metres, Joe Tapine 146 and Hudson Young 124.
- Sharks fans would've loved what they saw from new halfback Nicho Hynes whose composed performance included three tackle breaks, one try assist and 274 kicking metres.
Hodgson injured in an awkward tackle
Play of the Game
The night belonged to 2019 Clive Churchill Medalist and 2020 Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton, who celebrated his double ton with a powerful display which included 142 running metres, five tackle breaks and the game's opening four-pointer when he disposed of Nicho Hynes with a great fend, sent the ball to winger Nick Cotric and then took the return pass to cross for the 65th try of his career.
Wighton gets over in his 200th game
What They Said
"Given that we kicked that field goal with about five minutes to go we knew we needed to be on high alert whether it was running the ball or kicking a field goal, we just needed to be on red alert there. We just needed to handle that last five minutes a little bit better." - Sharks captain Dale Finucane
"There was a lot of grit and a lot of want from the boys. It was a good game of footy. I thought Brad Schneider was very good kicking four from four and him and James Schiller will never forget that night and the involvement they both had. Being pushed into halfback in a very experienced team is a massive job and I thought Brad's composure was very good." - Raiders coach Ricky Stuart
NRL Press Conference: Raiders v Sharks - Round 1, 2022
The Raiders take the long road trip to Townsville to face the Cowboys. In round seven last year the Raiders gave up an 18-point lead to lose 26-24 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Seb Kris is expected to be available after completing his COVID protocols.
The Sharks host the Eels in a blockbuster return to PointsBet Stadium on Saturday. After two years playing out of Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and then Queensland when the competition was relocated, the Sharks will be champing at the bit to get home. Franklin Pele (suspension) and Connor Tracey (quad) are expected to be available for selection and coach Craig Fitzgibbon should be back on deck after he COVID protocols confined him to the lounge at home tonight.