It’s not all doom and gloom at Canberra.
Far from it in fact.
The flickering flame that is their finals hopes refuses to be extinguished, and following their crucial 34-18 victory over Cronulla, points difference is all that’s separating Canberra and that coveted eighth position.
It was the victorious Raiders that would open the Cbus Super Stadium encounter’s scoring, but not without controversy.
The Bunker deemed Braydon Trindall’s late contact on try-scorer Rapana justified an eight-point try, a baffling decision considering how minimal the contact was.
Regardless, Corey Harawira-Naera – who played a season-best game – was pivotal in the try’s lead-up, feigning a reach for the stripe before flicking a superb pass to Xavier Savage, creating space on the right edge for Jordan Rapana to capitalise on.
Jarrod Croker nailed both the conversion and penalty goal to give the Raiders an early eight-point lead.
Croker’s kicking game was on song, slotting another two penalty goals throughout the first half to ensure Canberra didn’t trail at the break.
AFL: Player Rankings: Top 10 Performers of Round 17
LOCAL: EFL: Berwick on the Money in upset win over Norwood
INTERVIEWS: Ravi Ratnayeke: The story of Sri Lanka's 12th Test cricketer
A brilliant individual effort from Jesse Ramien in the 23rd minute sparked the Sharks, withstanding contact and forcing his way to the in-goal.
Sione Katoa made it back-to-back six-pointers for Cronulla, keeping his feet with the touchline beckoning – despite a strong challenge from Jack Wighton – and finishing to score.
It was all tied up at the interim, and you couldn’t split the sides.
Wighton had gone into the break under an injury cloud, but that didn’t stop him from reinstating Canberra’s lead mere minutes into the second half.
The seeds of Wighton’s try were sown by a brilliant Savage run, zipping between Sharks jerseys to find Tom Starling who linked up with Wighton.
As was the theme throughout the clash, the lead would be short-lived.
A decisive catch-and-pass from Cronulla’s Connor Tracey had Ronaldo Mulitalo streaking down the left edge to score, and after Trindall converted the Sharks lead 18-16.
You couldn’t question the hunger and desire of Cronulla, despite their defensive errors up-field their goal-line defence was second to none, repeatedly scrambling and doing everything in their power to stop the Raiders from scoring.
Wighton’s injury concern came to a head in the final 20 minutes when he was forced from the field.
An influential piece of Canberra’s puzzle was missing, but still they rallied.
And their efforts were rewarded when Shaun Johnson fatefully rushed off his line, inviting Hudson Young through the gaping hole in the Sharks’ defence to slide home under the posts.
The Raiders smelt blood, further extending their lead after a mauling tackle forced a turnover.
Sebastian Kris looked the man to score, but was selfless instead, passing to Savage for his first NRL try.
It capped off a serious breakout game for the young Canberra fullback, who starred and had to dig deep late when he was unable to leave the field despite an obvious shoulder injury. The try was a just reward.
Enjoying this article?
Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and get your NRL fix!
Siosifa Talakai was sin-binned late for Cronulla, putting paid to any faint comeback hopes.
Semi Valemei made a certainty of the result, cleaning up a Sharks knock-on at the halfway line and going the journey to the in-goal.
Canberra looked a competitive and classy outfit, and made it back-to-back wins for the first time since the opening two rounds of the season.
Things are looking up for the Green Machine.