A late Sam Williams try has helped Canberra to a narrow 12-10 win against Canterbury in their only trial match of 2020, but the disciplined Bulldogs were largely the better side while the first-grade line-ups were on the park.
Both sides ran with a virtual NRL line-up for the opening half, with only a few forwards interchanged. The Raiders struggled for coherency largely through errors and penalties while the Bulldogs produced some crisp passing and had plenty of sting in their contact in both attack and defence.
Canberra's right edge featured a surprising name, with Corey Horsburgh moved out wide to pair with new halfback George Williams, Curtis Scott and Nick Cotric.
Williams produced some dangerous runs and long passes but overall struggled for cohesion in the revamped edge. Horsburgh looked comfortable but with little involvement compared to his work in the middle last season while the centre-wing pair saw precious little ball in attack.
For the Bulldogs, fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (back soreness) and winger Christian Crichton (knee) were game-day scratchings, moving Will Hopoate to fullback, Morgan Harper to starting centre and Port Macquarie local Jake Averillo to wing.
Former Panther Sione Katoa was solid standing in at hooker for Jeremy Marshall-King while neither Jack Cogger nor Brandon Wakeham really stamped themselves as the man to partner Lachlan Lewis in round one.
Match: Bulldogs v Raiders
Round 3 -
Venue: Port Macquarie Regional Stadium, Port Macquarie
Hopoate proved his ball skills are still up to the task at No.1 early on, throwing a beautiful cut-out for Averillo to score in the corner just five minutes in.
A run of penalties against the Raiders helped the Dogs set up camp in attacking range with Dylan Napa crashing over to make it 10-0 after 10 minutes.
The Raiders gave themselves little chance with a series of errors and penalties through the opening quarter but were more disciplined after the drinks break with a lovely Joe Tapine offload to Josh Papalii allowing a supporting Wighton to nab the Green Machine's first points.
There were opportunities for both sides, including a Jayden Okunbor line break that set the Dogs on the attack, but neither could find further points while the first-string line-ups were out there.
Both sides rung the changes around three-quarter time with the depth players playing out the final quarter alongside whichever forwards needed a few more minutes.
The fresh legs seemed to reinvigorate the Raiders more than the Bulldogs and a Sam Williams show-and-go made a mockery of the blue and white defence in the 67th minute to put the Raiders up 12-10, with the veteran Raiders back-up half keen to keep the heat on namesake and new recruit George.
They were the only further points as the Raiders held on for a narrow win.