Raiders v Bulldogs: Five Key Points
Four tries in the final 20 minutes helped the Raiders storm home against a dogged Canterbury side that looked in control thanks to some Herculean efforts from their big men.
Tapine makes his mark in the nation's capital
Having joined the Raiders on the eve of the 2016 season with plenty of fanfare, Joseph Tapine justified the hype with a starring role in the final 20 minutes to get his side home. The former Newcastle Knights forward crashed over for his first try in Canberra colours in the 58th minute before sealing the result a minute from full-time with some footwork and a flurry of fends.
The 22-year-old played 54 minutes – the most this season – and finished the game with 119 metres and 29 tackles plus his first two line breaks of 2016. His ability to make defenders miss will make him a key acquisition come the business end of the season.
Props to the Bulldogs' big men
Even without State of Origin representatives Josh Jackson and David Klemmer, the Canterbury forwards still had plenty of grunt about them. Prop Aiden Tolman ran for 208 metres, made 44 tackles and scored a try in an 80-minute performance, while fellow front-rower James Graham made 218 metres and 40 tackles in a 76-minute effort.
With Sam Kasiano forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury, back-rower Greg Eastwood was forced to play the entire game for the first time this season. Having polled five Dally M votes in the past fortnight, there is every chance the Kiwis forward will add to that tally after running for 201 metres, breaking five tackles and coming up with five offloads.
Centres of excellence inspire Raiders
The playing styles of Joseph Leilua and Jarrod Croker couldn't be any different, but they are equally effective. Leilua confirmed his status as one of the most damaging centres in the game with 139 metres, five tackle breaks and five offloads to extend his lead as the game's number one promoter of the football. The bulldozing centre thrived in the absence of defensive-supremo Josh Morris with a telling try on the stroke of half-time.
Croker, meanwhile, oozed class on Sunday afternoon with a team-high 209 metres courtesy of two lengthy breaks down the left edge. Both busts led to tries that proved the difference in the end. The Raiders skipper chipped in with 13 tackles and four goals to extend his lead as the competition's leading point-scorer.
Reimis stars on debut
Having played 80 minutes in the Intrust Super Premiership on Saturday afternoon, Bulldogs winger Reimis Smith could have been excused for thinking his sporting weekend was over. Instead, the 19-year-old was rushed over to the nation's capital to replace the Origin-bound Josh Morris.
Smith was anything but overawed and played a starring role despite limited preparation with two tries on his NRL debut. The first game just six minutes into the contest with the rookie juggling a Moses Mbye pass to touch down with his first touch in the top grade. He only had to wait another 20 minutes before he doubled his try-scoring tally thanks to another wonderful ball from his halfback.
Arctic conditions terrorise the kickers
Spare a thought for goal kickers Jarrod Croker and Kerrod Holland. Sunday's game finished with the thermometer reading six degrees; the wind chill made it feel like just two!
The freezing conditions in Canberra clearly took its toll on both men with Croker and Holland shanking kicks they'd normally nail given their lofty standards. The Bulldogs centre nailed six from six last weekend against the Roosters including several from touch while Croker has been landing them from everywhere in 2016.
Holland had a kick that barely got off the ground while the Raiders sharp-shooter failed to make the distance with his first shot of the afternoon. When does spring start?