Canberra’s opening win of the year, and Ricky Stuart’s first as Raiders coach, may have come at a huge cost after star back-rower Josh Papalii limped off with an ankle injury at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night.
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The Canberra Raiders win a thriller, beating the Newcastle Knights 26-20 at Hunter Stadium.
While the Raiders got off the mark in season 2014 thanks to a spectacular display from Anthony Milford, they could be without one of their marquee men Papalii for several weeks after he limped off early in the second half.
Early diagnosis from Canberra’s sheds after the 26-20 win was the 21-year-could could be sidelined for four to six weeks with ankle syndesmosis, but will undergo scans this week.
Papalii fell to the ground in agony after 50 minutes clutching his right ankle after twisting awkwardly in a BJ Leilua tackle.
The Australia Test back rower took several minutes to limp into the sheds and played no further part in the match.
His departure sparked an outstanding response from Milford, who set up Canberra’s next two tries to inspire the visitors to victory.
The teenage fullback was simply electric, finishing with three line breaks, a try assist and 208 metres in a scintillating display.
The Brisbane Broncos must be salivating at what’s in store for them with Milford contracted to join them next season but Canberra is working behind the scenes to change his mind before the round 13 deadline.
The 19-year-old proved exactly why the Raiders have offered him a reported near $1million a season deal to stay. Canberra is playing with far more grit and determination this year, a hallmark of Sunday’s win. But it was Milford’s class which proved the icing on the cake.
“He’s a class player,’’ Stuart said. “They turn the game and on the back of all the grunt and the grind and effort from a number of individuals, he was a big telling factor.
“It’s a bit like last week. They [North Queensland] don’t have Johnathan Thurston, we win by four tries.’’
Canberra forward Paul Vaughan scored the decisive try in the second half off a questionable pass from Jarrod Croker which appeared to drift forward.
Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett made his thoughts on the decision clear.
“It was pretty obvious what happened at the ground, I don’t think I need to reiterate what we all saw,’’ he said.
Canberra took a 6-0 lead when a pinpoint grubber from Jack Wighton was touched down by centre Jarrod Croker in the seventh minute.
But moments later Newcastle’s debutant fullback Matt Minto, who came into the side late with Kurt Gidley shifting to hooker, threw a cut-out pass to unmarked winger Akuila Uate who ran 30 metres to score in the corner.
The Knights took the lead for the first time 10-6 after 20 minutes when former Raider Michael Dobson put back rower Beau Scott through a hole, who ran 30 metres to score.
After 24 minutes the Raiders levelled proceedings when bench hooker Josh McCrone busted through a poor attempted tackle by Kurt Gidley to run 25 metres and score in the corner.
When Papalii went down, Milford took the game by the scruff of the neck. With the Knights
defence on the back foot, Milford scooted 30 metres from dummy half and positioned Croker for his second try to give the visitors a 16-10 lead after 52 minutes.
Midway through the second half Newcastle levelled scores when Raiders winger Reece Robinson made a mess of a Tyrone Roberts grubber, allowing James McManus to clean up.
And Newcastle were in front again 20-16 when halfback Tyrone Roberts backed up a BJ Leilua offload to score in the corner.
But it was Milford who turned provider again, breaking through and offloading inside to Croker who Vaughan with a questionable pass with 12 minutes left.
Milford slotted his third conversion of the night to give the Raiders a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
CANBERRA RAIDERS 26 (Jarrod Croker 2, Josh McCrone, Paul Vaughan, Edrick Lee tries; Anthony Milford 3 goals) bt NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 20 (Akuila Uate, Beau Scott, James McManus, Tyrone Roberts tries; Kurt Gidley 2 goals) at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night. Referees: Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara. Crowd: 14,674.