ROUND 14: Canberra Raiders v. Brisbane Broncos (GIO Stadium, 15/8/20)

The Raiders started relatively slow but ended up putting 28 points on the Broncos when they hosted them at GIO Stadium on Saturday night. A Dunamis Lui offload to Siliva Havili culminated a good opening set from Canberra, even if Jack Wighton sent the first kick over the sideline, giving Brisbane a scrum feed to compose themselves in these early minutes of the match.

Payne Haas ran into Josh Papalii again, this time as attacker, and Tom Dearden ended with an enormous bomb that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad had to catch right on the turf, conceding the first big advantage in field position as the Raider struggled to make their way back from their own end, with only the briefest glimpse of a restart on the third tackle. Darius Boyd looked winded next time he brought the ball back, but Brisbane got the first penalty late in their next set – offside from Havili – and then the first restart off a ruck infringement from Lui, as the two proponents of the Raiders’ early second-phase play laid the platform for the Broncos to put down their first try.

Admittedly, the visitors didn’t score on this set, but they used it to accelerate into their next touch of the football, when Kotoni Staggs collected a flick offload from David Fifita, sped down the right sideline, and kicked at speed for Jesse Arthars to make the fastest run of his career to gather the footy into his chest, slamming down to score before any of the Canberra defenders reached him.

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Even if Staggs missed the conversion, this was still a big opening statement from Brisbane, although the Raiders didn’t take long to respond, since Kotoni’s next kick was the first dropout of the night, forced by a slippery chip from George Williams that caught Arthars in goal. Lui now made up for his try-enabling error, taking two platforms and helping set the scene for a rapid right sweep that ended with his halfback popping out a harbour bridge ball that Nick Cotric bobbled and then regathered on the sideline.

CNK was unable to barge through the cover defence on the last play, but this still turned out to be a critical sequence, as Herbie Farnworth conceded the first Brisbane penalty and so set up Canberra for their first four points. Lui continued to be massive, dragging three defenders towards the right upright on the first tackle, and Williams opted for another rainbow ball on the second – this time on the other side of the park, where he gave Jordan Rapana a 31st birthday present by sending him over in the corner to break a nine-game drought.

Wighton rivalled Dearden’s soaring bomb at the end of the restart, but the Broncos got a fresh burst when Jake Turpin forced a handling error from Jarrod Croker on the very next play. A messy period now ensued, as Staggs slipped on the first tackle, Turpin undid the field position he’d created with a bad ball to Payne Haas, and Williams kicked too long on the next set, gifting Brisbane the first seven tackle set of the match.

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For a moment, it looked like Staggs was going to correct by repeating his previous try assist, as he collected a Boyd offload, careened around Rapana, and headed up the sideline, but instead slipped for the first time in as many minutes, meaning he had to resort to a clutch offload that Arthars was a little too far forward to collect. Brisbane then tried a similar play on the other side of the park, ushering in a battle of the ex-Storm players when Haas barged into Williams and offloaded out to Brodie Croft, who mirrored Staggs’ splendid run down the short side, kicking for Farnworth but finding the bounce sitting up for Curtis Scott.

Nevertheless, the Broncos now had enough momentum to galvanise them into one of the best pack efforts of the round – a mammoth surge of Brisbane power that drove Croker back in goal from five metres out. With a restart the Broncos looked pretty likely to score, especially when Dearden almost dummied through the line on the third, and yet the set was aborted by one of the weirdest Captain’s Challenges of the year – an eloquent delineation of what the Bunker can and can’t do.

Brisbane got a knock-on from Wighton, but sent the decision upstairs to get it turned into a penalty, claiming that the big five-eighth also deserved to be pinged for not being square at marker. Since the Bunker can’t rule on offside errors in the context of a challenge, however, the decision came back as a successful challenge for Canberra, who got the ball again due to mutual infringement, since they technically had possession when Brisbane sent the play upstairs.

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Nevertheless, this frustrating decision seemed to galvanise Brisbane, who settled into one of their most sustained periods of possession as the half hour mark approached, moving through three restarts and a dropout to prevent Canberra getting hold of the football for almost ten minutes. On the other side of the Steeden, the Raiders stayed strong in defence, only capitulating on the last tackle of the last set, when Croft popped the footy out to Boyd for a deft grubber from close-range.

Cotric landed on it, but ricocheted it back up into the hands of Farnworth, who skipped over him and then barged through CNK and Scott to get the footy down. There was a brief question of whether Richie Kennar had pushed Scott or just helped to bump his no. 4 over the line, but the try was cleared – it was a marginal call – and Brisbane had their next four points on the board.

While Staggs missed the sideline conversion, and while Turpin was taken off the park with a  hand injury, it was still pretty motivating for Brisbane to head t the sheds with a two-point lead for Canberra – and especially encouraging for Joe Ofahengaue, who had subbed on for Thomas Flegler at the 28th minute, who tonight marked 365 games since he last won a match for the Broncos – Round 22 last year against Penrith – making this the longest losing streak for any Brisbane player.

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Yet these would be the last points that Brisbane scored, as the Raiders accelerated over the second stanza into their biggest win margin of the 2020 season. The first was a Super League combo five minutes in, when Bateman channeled Staggs with a right side linebreak in only his third game of the season, pivoting away from Croft, drawing in Boyd and shooting the footy back inside for Williams to score. This was a bad miss from Croft, given his speed, although the game was still in Brisbane’s grasp, since both teams had two tries apiece, with only Croker’s two conversions making the difference.

That level playing field vanished pretty quickly, however, as the Raiders rocketed ahead again four minutes later, thanks to an overlong kick from Dearden that got them seven tackles to play with. They tried a few different options on the first four tackles, and actually seemed to be decelerating, but the Broncos slowed down faster, leaving a massive gap on the right edge for Cotric to jump through – although he really could have walked over, since a brilliant midfield, on-the-ground offload from Joseph Tapine to Walker had drawn in and depleted the Brisbane defence on the wing.

Just as Bateman’s break had depended on a simple miss from Scott, so Boyd fell far below his capacities as defensive fullback here, looking on with his team mates as a third Croker kick got Canberra a more secure ten point lead. Meanwhile, Tapine was just as massive on the restart, taking two tackles and helping Corey Harawira-Naera add to his metres in Raiders colours, while Croker almost busted through line a play later.

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Wighton was a bit too hard with the boot, and Arthars was lucky not to get pinged for a late tackle – luck that Brisbane should have capitalised on as the hour mark approached, since they’d only scored twelve points in total during the final twenty this year, and had been outscored 48-0 during the last quarter in their previous four fixtures. Instead, Ofahengae conceded the first Broncos penalty in twenty minutes with a hand in the ruck, setting up Canberra for what initially looked like their next tryscoring sequence – a split-second flick pass from Croker to Rapana, who lost control for an equally brief split-second before Flegler bumped him over the sideline.

So sharp and compressed with this sequence that this Raiders picked up right away when Flegler lost the footy into the Brisbane restart, demonstrating that they could put down points even when the preceding plays were pretty messy and unkempt. For the first four tackles, the Raiders seemed to be ferrying the footy all over the park, unable to make good on another Tapine offload on the left edge, but it all came together with a reversal of the earlier Super League linkup.

This time Williams provided the assist, chipping to the right side of the park where Bateman compensated for a slightly awkward trajectory with the slightest of bobbles before he gathered the Steeden into his chest and slammed it down to score, putting Canberra triple Brisbane at 8-24 as Croker booted another conversion through the posts.

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The last two tries came in quick succession – the first on the restart, when Harawira-Naera took a big hit, Tapine almost broke through the line, and then Croker did break through the line, collecting a Whitehead offload and booting it back inside for CNK to slam it down and bounce up for his trademark bow-and-arrow celebration. The Canberra fullback was confirmed onside by the Bunker, Croker added the extras, and the Raiders only had to wait another two minutes for their final try.

Harawira-Naera lost the Steeden on play one of the restart, and the Broncos got six again a moment later, but the ex-Bulldog got his own back off a Croft knock-on, breaking through the line and getting a ruck infringement from Corey Paix on play two. He ran forty metres, broke through a tackle from Boyd, and then ran twenty more, and the Raiders drew on his energy for a rapid right shift that ended with Scott flicking the footy out to Cotric, who pivoted back inside from the wing and twisted through three Brisbane players, clutching the ball to his chest for the toughest effort of the whole game.

Canberra had gone from 6-8 to halftime to 36-8 when Croker mastered another conversion angle – their biggest win margin of the 2020 season. They almost added to it twice – when Staggs was put on report for a dangerous tackle after bumping Rapana in touch, and then when a Wighton crossover was called back due to an obstruction from Havili.

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With Haas also put on report for a dangerous hit, this was a pretty dire conclusion for the Broncos, who will be looking for only their second win of the season since returning from lockdown, following their lone victory over the Bulldogs, when they host the Broncos at Suncorp next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this has the potential to be a pivotal game for the Raiders if they capitalise on it properly over the next couple of weeks, so they’ll be keen to get rolling with a big win when they meet Gold Coast at Cbus on Saturday afternoon.

About Billy Stevenson (487 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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