The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of the Canberra Raiders in their final pre-season trial.
A near capacity crowd packed into Port Macquarie Regional Stadium on Saturday afternoon to watch the clash.
Coach Dean Pay opted to rest Dallin Watene-Zalezniak due to a minor back injury with Will Hopoate named at fullback in his place.
Exceptional hands from Hopoate seven minutes in saw the first points of the match, as rookie winger Jake Averillo finish off a slick backline move to score in the corner. The conversion attempt from Averillo struck the post.
Some brutal defence kept the Raiders at bay and gifted the Bulldogs several chances to work on their attacking combinations.
New hooker Sione Katoa needed no invitation to take advantage of the Bulldogs strong field position, with a lovely short ball sending Dylan Napa over next to the posts. Averillo converted for a 10-0 lead.
Teams shared possession back and forth before Jack Wighton latched onto a Josh Papalii offload in the 25th minute to score under the posts. Jarrod Croker converted and closed the gap to four points.
Despite each side having a decent chance at adding to the scoreboard, the Bulldogs took a slim lead into halftime.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Raiders
Brandon Wakeham replaced Jack Cogger at halfback for the second stanza in the only major positional change for the ‘Dogs.
An excellent floating cutout from the Raiders’ new import George Williams almost paid dividends until some brutal Bulldogs defence forced Bailey Simonsson over the touchline.
Jayden Okunbor brought the crowd to its feet in the 50th minute with a scintillating break up the right sideline that ultimately ended in a scrum.
Minutes later fellow winger Averillo darted up the opposite sideline and tried a sneaky chip and chase to no avail as the score remained 10-6 in favour of the Bulldogs.
Development players Tui Katoa and Aaron Schoupp were given their chance in the final 20 minutes as part of a host of changes by Dean Pay.
After 28 minutes the Raiders broke the second half deadlock as Sam Williams slipped through next to the posts. He converted his own try for a two point lead.
Despite a breathtaking finish that almost saw the young pups score after the siren, the Raiders took the spoils 12-10.
Raiders 12 (Tries: Jack Wighton, Sam Williams, Goals: Jarrod Croker 1/1, Sam Williams 1/1)
Bulldogs 10 (Tries: Jake Averillo, Dylan Napa, Goals: Jake Averillo 1/2)
Words: Matt Attard