Canberra coach Ricky Stuart's pre-game forecast of more short-term pain proved prophetic with a major team reshuffle failing to lift his struggling side in a 22-14 loss to Canterbury at Canberra Stadium on Friday.
Labelled a ''must-win game'' by skipper Terry Campese, the decision to bench rising star Anthony Milford and install Reece Robinson at fullback backfired for the hosts as Canterbury snapped a three-game losing streak.
Milford was presumably benched because he was involved in Queensland Origin camp all week, but a horror Robinson error in the second half helped Canterbury cruise to the two points.
Stuart dropped rising half Mitch Cornish from his bench and costly errors ensured debutant Brenko Lee had a night to forget.
With NSW halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds pulling the strings expertly just two days after helping break the Maroons' eight-year dynasty, the visitors tore Canberra's leaky edge defence to shreds.
Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis praised his playmakers for their strong displays after the finest moment of their careers.
"I'm really proud of them, it was a tremendous effort from them tonight,'' Ennis said.
Raiders centre Jarrod Croker was one of his side's best, but admitted poor errors and discipline again crippled them.
"It's the same every week and we can't keep doing it. We have to start winning or it's going to be over before it's barely started,'' Croker said.
"It's been like that the whole year. With errors and penalties we give them too much of a leg up, and a quality side like that will come away with the points.''
A spirited Raiders side began strongly and led 8-4 after 25 minutes, but have now lost six of their last seven games and any remote chance of finals now seems lost.
The Raiders' attitude can't be questioned, but they are lacking the attacking arsenal to trouble premiership fancies like Canterbury.
The hosts' frustration was evident by the constant running battle between lock Shaun Fensom and Reynolds, who were at each other's throats all game.
Canberra trailed 14-8 at half-time and were right in the contest, but Robinson's 50th-minute gaffe proved the fatal blow.
Attempting to avoid conceding a line drop-out, Robinson lost the ball attempting to plant it in the field of play, with Bulldogs centre Tim Lafai pouncing to score.
It was a call likely to spark debate, with the on-field referees' no-try ruling overruled by video referees Luke Phillips and Henry Perenara.
Hodkinson appeared to have hold of Robinson's legs to effect the ball when he grounded the ball on the try line.
The Raiders crowd of 10,873 held their breath when skipper Terry Campese headed down the tunnel with an issue to the left knee, the same knee which has been reconstructed twice.
Fears he may have snapped his anterior cruciate ligament again were eased when he returned to the field a few minutes later after being diagnosed with a cork to his medial side.
Halves partner Josh McCrone later exited with a similar problem, throwing Canberra's interchange rotation into disarray.
The big Bulldogs pack capitalised to grind out a much-needed win in a scrappy affair.
In the sixth minute Croker opened the scoring with his 11th try of the season through some aggressive hole running off a Terry Campese pass.
Croker was a chance to double that lead the next set after making a break down the left flank, but his inside pass intended for Robinson went to ground.
After 15 minutes the Bulldogs made winger Lee pay for a knock -n just five metres out from his own line, with former Raider Drury Low scoring in the left corner.
A Croker penalty goal ten minutes later extended the hosts' lead to 8-4.
In the 33rd minute a pass from Reynolds opened up space for centre Krisnan Inu to position his winger Corey Thompson to score in the corner and give the visitors a 10-8 lead.
Reynolds was provider again just before the break when his 40-20 set up Low's second try and a 14-8 Canterbury lead.
Lafai doubled that lead before a Hodkinson penalty goal with 15 minutes left sealed the result.
A superb Campese grubber kick set up a try to Milford, but it proved too little, too late, despite an inspirational display from prop David Shillington.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 22 (Drury Low 2, Corey Thompson, Tim Lafai tries; Trent Hodkinson 3 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 14 (Jarrod Croker, Anthony Milford tries; Croker 3 goals)at Canberra Stadium on Friday night.
Referees: Ashley Klein and Alan Shortall. Crowd: 10,873