If losing Josh Hodgson wasn’t bad enough, the Raiders now look like being without Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for some time. Ever the optimist, Ricky Stuart always finds a way to make his side believe, and believe they did.
What Canberra have right now isn’t something that comes overnight, it’s a strength built over years, and it’s on full show. Champion sides find a way, it’s what makes them champions. Canberra have been finding a way, refusing to defined by personnel losses, instead claiming big scalps undermanned.
The Raiders came back from 10-12 halftime deficit, to hold South Sydney scoreless in the second half as conditions took a turn for the worst and points came at a premium.
It was Nick Cotric who opened the scoring for Canberra with a brilliant piece of work in the sixth minute. Jack Wighton placed his chip on a dime and Jordan Rapana did enough in the contest to knock the ball backwards. Cotric retreated to the 10-metre line to retrieve the deflection off his own head, shrugged off Dane Gagai as he turned and set his sights on the right corner, flying in to give Canberra a 4-0 lead.
Cotric adds some mayo to a stellar opener
Setting the tone for their night, Souths missed two early chances and Canberra made them pay, doubling up to stretch the lead to 10. A big 40-metre run from Jarrod Croker had the Raiders on the front foot, and the ensuing Set Restart and penalty made sure pressure was firmly applied to the Rabbitohs’ defence.
A Jack Wighton kick was destined to go dead, but Adam Reynolds stuck out a fateful paw that altered the course of the play. The ball was now live and loose and Croker pounced, scooping it up and throwing himself over a sliding Jaxson Paulo into the in-goal.
A lengthy Rabbitohs passing chain filled with quick hands that was simply poetry in motion put Dane Gagai over in the 21st minute, who couldn’t be stopped by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Josh Papalii.
Minutes later the Rabbitohs struck again, this time Adam Reynolds scoring off the back of a double Set Restart. Reynolds passed to Jaydn Su’A and then followed up on the inside to get it back and tumble into the in-goal, where he quickly bounced up and scurried and behind the posts to make his conversion job easier.
A late shot on Jack Wighton allowed Jarrod Croker to tie things up early in the second half, with a penalty goal in the 46th minute.
The Raiders chances were dealt a hefty blow when fullback Nicoll-Klokstad was forced out of the game with a nasty looking compound fracture in his finger. This meant both sides were left without their starting fullback – Alex Johnston was ruled out in the first half after failing his HIA.
Nasty, CNK could be missing for some time
A penalty had Canberra on the attack, and a deflection found its way to Semi Valemei to give the Raiders an 18-12 lead, and ultimately the win. There’s no better way to open your NRL try-scoring account than with a match-winner, which is exactly what Valemei did. Elliott Whitehead looked to stab in a close range grubber from dummy half, which was met by an outstretched boot from Campbell Graham. In a case of right-time right-place, the ball landed in Valemei’s lap and he reacted quickly, scoring in the left corner.
Neither side was able to build real momentum late in the game, with errors (Canberra 14, Souths 11) contributing to the almost constant change of possession.
Some bruising runs and an outstretched arm that fell millimetres short from Thomas Burgess – who was a standout running 181 metres – kept some hope alive for the Rabbitohs, but it wasn’t to be. Stand-in Canberra fullback Jordan Rapana laid a certain try saver on Adam Reynolds, pulling him back from the in-goal in what was the most promising of South Sydney’s second half sets, yet still dysfunctional as they never looked to push the ball wide.
The Rabbitohs left plenty to be desired in attack, in what wasn’t an overly convincing display from the supposed premiership contenders who have now fallen out of the eight, and cost themselves two valuable premiership points. They face the Dragons next week in what is simply a must-win clash.
For Canberra, they couldn’t have asked for a better showing. Nicoll-Klokstad went off injured, and stand-in fullback Rapana was forced from the field with a HIA in the final eight minutes. Still, they clung on for gritty and courageous victory, outlining their strong character and inching closer to a top four berth. They come up against a struggling 3-8 Cowboys outfit next week.