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Raiders crush rivals’ NRL finals hopes

The Raiders’ win has them in the top eight for the time being. Image: NRL Photos

The Raiders have extinguished the flame of any hope for finals football for the Dragons, who may not win a game after BBQ-gate this year. The Dragons are done and dusted for 2021.

The kicking game of Canberra half Sam Williams was the difference in the 20-12 win that took Ricky Stuart’s men provisionally into seventh position, making them still a chance of playing in the semis.

The last fire breathed at the Dragons was under Paul Vaughan’s hotplate in the infamous BBQ-gate saga. Since then, they have lost four on the trot with a different team each week.

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This was a different St George Illawarra team with Jack Bird, Jack de Belin, Blake Lawrie, Josh McGuire and Zac Lomax all returning from Covid suspensions, but they blew their chance after halves Corey Norman and Adam Clune both set up tries for Mathew Feagai and Tariq Sims respectively in the opening stanza.

The Dragons had four line breaks to zero at halftime and yet the scores were locked at 12-all at the break. The Raiders did one thing superbly, and that was take their chances.

Second-rower Elliott Whitehead put in a deft grubber and winger Harley Smith-Shields leapt over the touch in-goal line to tap it back for Jordan Rapana to score in his 150th game for the club. Jack Wighton leapt high above Lomax to snaffle a superb Sam Williams bomb. Two chances, two tries.

Tom Starling’s dart from dummy-half edged the Raiders ahead in the second stanza and they held on with a Williams 40/20 enabling Jarrod Croker to land the decisive penalty goal.

Stuart was matter of fact about the victory and had a warning for his side.

“It’s a win. If we defend like we did in the first half next week [against Melbourne] we will get beaten by sixty,” Stuart said.

“The defence in the second half won it.”

The Dragons have now lost their last four games. Image: NRL Photos/Grant Trouville
The Dragons have now lost their last four games. Image: NRL Photos/Grant Trouville

Finals fortunes

Neither side will make an impression on the top six in the finals, but for the Dragons that is now a bridge too far as they play three top six teams in the remaining month.

After being in the top eight for most of the year, a crazy decision by Vaughan and a group of irresponsible Dragons has cost the club dear.

When the game was on the line against Canberra, the Dragons did not have the teamwork nor cohesion to make an impression.

“It hasn’t helped, but it is over,” Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said of BBQ-gate.

“The season is not over. I am more worried about what we do next week. Tonight they did a magnificent job for most of the night.

“I feel for them because they threw a hell of a lot of effort into that game but we just did enough to lose it.”

The Raiders are not at their best each week but they play with more desire and fight than the Dragons. With Melbourne, Manly, the Roosters and Warriors ahead of them there is plenty of improvement needed to get the two wins, and to 24 competition points, that will be needed to play in September.

As for where his team is at in relation to the rest of the competition, Stuart said: “I know where we are at and what we have got to do.”

“We have got a very hard run.”

Jordan Rapana continued to impress in his switch to fullback. Image: NRL Photos
Jordan Rapana continued to impress in his switch to fullback. Image: NRL Photos

Jumping Jack

Under siege Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton has had coach Ricky Stuart in his corner despite an underwhelming year. Wighton’s confidence is down and he second guessed himself a couple of times and kicked a ball dead in the first half. The one play that he needed to make count he did with a leap for the ages to give the Raiders a sniff as halftime loomed. With Williams playing a guiding hand, Wighton has the chance to get himself going if he can shine against the big guns in the coming month. Stuart’s support will be key to his return to top form.

Heat

With so much on the line there was plenty of heat and casualties in the clash.

Dragons centre Codey Ramsey copped one in the chops in the first minute after colliding with teammate Andrew McCullough in the first set and was out of the game.

Raiders duo Jordan Rapana and Emre Guler were both put on report for dangerous tackles as were Dragons firebrands Tariq Sims and De Belin and Zac Lomax.

Stuart wasn’t too concerned about either of his players on report with Guler catching Jack Bird high with a shoulder and Rapana’s thigh catching Blake Lawrie.

“Jordan’s was unintentional. He wasn’t looking anywhere near the target of where his legs got to,” he said.

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