Raiders Ambush Bulldogs at Belmore
Words by Martin Gabor, National Correspondent , NRL.com
The Canberra Raiders have won their first game at Belmore since 1990 with a dominant 22-8 victory over an error-riddled Bulldogs side on Monday night.
A try to Josh Reynolds just before half-time looked to have given the Bulldogs a sniff of victory, but a downpour at the break washed away any hopes of a comeback win.
It was a night to remember for Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker who edged closer to David Furner's all-time scoring record at the club with two tries and five goals for a personal haul of 18 points.
Shaun Fensom got through a truckload of work in defence, making 51 tackles for the Raiders, while Michael Lichaa made 47 tackles in his first game back for injury for the Dogs.
Both teams suffered injury setbacks in the first half with the Raiders losing Iosia Soliola to a broken arm, while Canterbury's Chase Stanley suffered a hamstring injury in what was his 100th NRL appearance.
The blue and whites could also be without Tony Williams and Sam Kasiano for next Monday's clash in Melbourne after the pair were placed on report for applying pressure to the neck of Jack Wighton in the 30th minute. Williams was also involved in an incident that is sure to come under scrutiny from that match review committee after he appeared to trip Blake Austin.
The Bulldogs almost had the dream start when Josh Morris looked to have crashed over in the 6th minute, but the on-field officials and the Bunker agreed that he had lost the ball in the process of scoring.
It took the Raiders less than a minute to make the hosts pay, when the fit-again Aidan Sezer put Josh Papalii into a yawning gap, before the back-rower linked up with Croker to cross near the sticks.
The Raiders doubled their advantage five minutes later courtesy of Jack Wighton, after the fullback reacted fastest to a Josh Hodgson grubber.
In the corresponding fixture last year, the Bulldogs led 26-0 after 18 minutes. On Monday night, they were lucky not to be 18-0 down when Jordan Rapana was held up at the same juncture.
The introduction of cult heroes David Klemmer and Sam Kasiano lifted the parochial Belmore crowd, who finally found their voice midway through the contest.
A Croker penalty goal pushed the lead to more than two converted tries, before the Bulldogs finally got going through local junior Josh Reynolds.
The Bulldogs five-eighth had earlier won a penalty following a late tackle by Shannon Boyd, and quickly recovered to barge over down the short-side to give his side some momentum leading into the break.
It took a while for the second half to come to life, but once it did, the action was nothing short of spectacular.
Croker was involved in everything, making a big break, before linking up with Rapana, who produced a scrumptious flick pass to Sezer who was somehow dragged down short of the line.
From the ensuing play, the Raiders centre looked to find Rapana for what would have been a simple try, but Josh Jackson got in the road to deny him, and was correctly sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
Croker duly knocked over the gift two, but was clearly in the mood for more, finishing off some great work from the next set to crash over for his second of the night to make it 22-4 with 23 minutes to play.
The Bulldogs wouldn't go down without a fight, and with 12 minutes to go, turned to Will Hopoate to cross for his fifth try in as many games for his new club, but it was too little too late, the Raiders running out deserved 14-point victors.
Raiders 22 (Jarrod Croker 2, Jack Wighton tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) defeated Bulldogs 8 (Josh Reynolds, Will Hopoate tries; Moses Mbye goals) at Belmore Sports Ground. Half-time: 14-4 Raiders. Crowd: 13,463. On report: Tony Williams (pressure on the neck), Sam Kasiano (pressure on the neck), Shannon Boyd (shoulder charge). Sin bin: Josh Jackson (professional foul).
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