Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Haunted by the ghosts of last year’s infamous Grand Final, the embattled Raiders pulled off a season-defining upset to bring the Roosters 10 game SCG winning streak to an end.
The see-sawing blockbuster saw four lead changes as Canberra dug deep to finish strongly after being trapped in their defensive 20 for a good chunk of the first half.
Questions were raised about how Canberra would perform in the absence of Josh Hodgson, and their halves pairing stepped up. Jack Wighton and George Williams were potent when choosing to run the ball; combining for seven tackle breaks, one line break a piece, as well as Williams adding a superb individual try.
Early in the second half, Josh Papalii wore an Angus Crichton elbow in the face – and was penalised for retaliating – causing him to play like a man possessed. The front-rower was influential in getting the Raiders over the line, and finished with a try, line break and 218 metres to show.
Sydney had the first half on their terms, but it was Canberra who found a way through to open the scoring off the back of Jack Wighton brilliance. Wighton slipped through the line and had the Roosters defence unsettled, off the next play Joseph Tapine offloaded to Dunamis Lui who swiveled over and put it down under the posts.
It was try scorer Lui that gifted the Roosters a penalty minutes later and lay the platform for their retaliation. Luke Keary threw a bullet to Tedesco and Jarrod Croker rushed him looking to nullify the stars impact. This was to his detriment though as Tedesco, appearing to stop time, effortlessly stepped inside Croker and looped a precision ball to Brett Morris who slid home in the right corner.
Kyle Flanagan’s high kicking game was on point, and after three ripper takes from Nick Cotric, full back Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad knocked on. A Canberra offside in the following play allowed Flanagan to convert the penalty goal and give Sydney an 8-6 lead.
Undisciplined play from the Raiders, and general Roosters dominance, saw Sydney owning the possession and territory battles. After a number of let-offs; the first when Sydney missed their kick for touch, and the second when Lui produced a massive one on one strip after back to back set restarts. Canberra could only withstand for so long.
Kicks from Luke Keary and Jake Friend forced consecutive goal-line dropouts, and some Kyle Flanagan magic broke the valiant Raiders defence to give Brett Morris his double. Flanagan unleashed a perfectly weighted Harbour Bridge pass, all the Canberra defence could do was watch in awe as it sailed over them and into the running arms of Morris, who greeted the in-goal with a superman dive for good measure.
Brett Morris ices a brilliant try
Starved of the footy and hungry to score, the Raiders blew a three on one chance down the left edge to steal a try on the cusp of half time, and come away from a half where they barely attacked unscathed on the scoreboard.
They wouldn’t have to wait much longer however, tying the game up at 12-12 two minutes after the resumption. Williams switched the ball back inside to Nicoll-Klokstad who, noticing the Roosters defence pressing his line hard, infiltrated the in-goal with a sneaky kick for Croker to ground and convert.
A contentious 50th minute penalty awarded to provoker Angus Crichton, gave Sydney the short-term gain of a 14-12 lead, but they suffered long-term pain as Papalii’s inner beast was awoken.
Tempers flared as Papalii didn't take kindly to an Angus Crichton elbow
Canberra gave the Roosters a taste of their own medicine, with a penalty preceded and followed by a set restart, that culminated in a try. George Williams fancifully danced and busted his way to the in-goal, stepping through traffic whilst barging through Jake Friend-Sitili Tupouniua and James Tedesco tackles.
As was the nature of the game, the Raiders didn’t bask in the lead for long. An error from debutant Semi Valemei gave the Tri-colours a chance to hit back instantly, which is exactly what they did. Keary and Tedesco linked to Josh Morris who held the ball and drew all defenders into the tackle, then freakishly freed his left hand and popped it out to the waiting Matt Ikuvalu. Ikuvalu took his chance and scored in the left corner for his sixth try in two weeks to give Sydney a slight edge at 20-18 with just over a quarter remaining.
A Jordan Rapana high shot late in the count put the Raiders under the pump again, but Lindsay Collins’ ill-fated attempt at an offload let them off the hook.
In the 65th minute, Papalii put the Raiders back in charge with a try so easy it looked like he was running through witches hats at training. The Rooster’s defence momentarily turned into statues and allowed Papalii safe passage through their line with no resistance whatsoever, the big forward making them pay and storming home to give Canberra a 24-20 lead.
An exhilarating final 15 minutes provided fast-paced action and plenty of opportunities for both sides. The most threatening of which when a Roosters counter attack was flying down the left edge with an extra number, only for the Josh Morris ball that put Ikuvalu past the line and sliding in for a try to be ruled forward.
Canberra didn’t take any chances late, opting against the risk of kicking and instead winding down their count, forcing the Roosters to start their sets from their own goal-line.
An incredible one-handed Ikuvalu pick up on the touchline to keep the set alive, and set restart that followed, gave Sydney hope of pulling off a cruel last minute heist. A Brett Morris knock on sealing the fate of the result.
Rain or shine, the Roosters can count on their formidable full back James Tedesco, who was at his sensational best with eight tackle breaks, one line break assist, one try assist and 236 metres. Matt Ikuvalu backed up his five try bonanza with another strong showing, running for 247 metres, as well as picking up a try and line break.
Narrow losses to the Storm and Raiders have shown there are chinks in the reigning premiers’ armour, who looked unbeatable not long ago, and if the Knights get up over South Syndey they’ll be pushed out of the top four.
For Canberra, the win meant so much more than just two competition points. It will help subdue their Grand Finals demons, whilst also proving that even without Josh Hodgson they are going nowhere in the premiership conversation.
It wasn’t their 18 point second half that won the Raiders the game, but rather their courageous first half defensive effort to be only trailing by six points even though Sydney had everything on their terms.