Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has lauded his team’s courage under adversity after an injury-struck Raiders out-enthused South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Despite losing star back-rowers Shaun Fensom and Joel Edwards to injury against one of the game’s most feared packs, the Raiders secured a boilover with a dominant 22-0 first half.
Fensom lasted just 35 minutes in his return from a one-match suspension after succumbing to a grade-one elbow ligament injury.
There were initial fears the star lock had broken his forearm after he went off clutching his arm in agony, and he will have scans this week.
Already without Test star Josh Papalii (ankle), Canberra’s back row took another hit when Edwards succumbed to concussion early in the second half attempting a tackle on George Burgess.
The Raiders’ middle unit showed tremendous guts to dig deep in the final quarter of the match.
Veterans David Shillington (100 metres) and Brett White (115 metres) had big games, while fellow prop Paul Vaughan (150 metres, 20 tackles) played huge minutes when forced to fill the void on the edge.
“We finished that second half with 15 men, that’s a really big effort and it comes from what’s within,’’ Stuart said.
“Considering we lost two of our really good players from early in the second half, the guys in the middle were out on their feet a number of times.
“The way that middle unit worked under fatigue was a credit to them.
“They all worked but some of the work Brett White does, which goes unseen, was remarkable today.
“Shillo, late in the game, you could see his experience shine out.’’
The Raiders’ 30-18 win was a statement to the rest of the competition, but it also exposed some worrying issues within the struggling Rabbitohs.
The league world fully expected a huge reaction from the hosts after two poor losses, particularly their star-studded forwards.
But they looked second rate and disinterested in the first half as Canberra built a match-winning 22-0 lead, and they missed just two tackles in the first 40 minutes.
Souths committed nine errors in the first half, and the frustrated home fans booed their side from the field at the break.
The Rabbitohs threatened a huge second half comeback when Dylan Walker and George Burgess scored within 15 minutes after the break.
Soon after Souths winger Nathan Merritt was denied a try when the video referees correctly ruled Sam Burgess, who had played the ball, had kicked the ball in the lead-up from an offside position.
The very next set, Rabbitohs fans were venting their fury at the men in the box when Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton was awarded a controversial try.
After at least a dozen looks, it was ruled Canberra centre Matt Allwood didn’t touch the ball contesting a Terry Campese bomb with Lote Tuqiri, and Wighton picked up the scraps to score under the posts.
Bracing for a Souths retaliation all week Canberra’s forward pack was sensational, particularly in the second half when down to 15 men.
Rumours persist there is trouble in the Souths camp, but coach Michael Maguire was diplomatic when asked if his side suffers from an attitude problem.
“I don’t think so, the boys, if you saw them train, they’re training hard,’’ he said.
“We have to stick at the things we know work and they are doing that.
“We have to use this disappointment to keep us improving as a team.’’
CANBERRA RAIDERS 30 (Reece Robinson 2, Dane Tilse, Anthony Milford, Jack Wighton tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) bt SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS 18 (Dylan Walker, George Burgess, Chris McQueen tries; Adam Reynolds 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. Referees: Jared Maxwell and Grant Atkins. Crowd: 16,032