NRL: Raiders v Dragons
Dane Tilse is tackled. Photo: Graham Tidy
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 34 (Brett Morris 3; Jason Nightingale 2, Josh Dugan, Peter Mata'utia tries; Gareth Widdop 3 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 16 (Josh Papalii, Jordan Rapana, Jarrod Croker tries; Croker 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium on Saturday. Referees: Adam Devcich and Grant Atkins. Crowd:10,318
PAPALII GETTING BACK TO BEST
Raiders back rower Josh Papalii announced himself as one of the best young players in the game last season, and was rewarded with Queensland and Australia honours. There’s no doubt that constant ankle problems, which have sidelined him twice this year, have been a major factor in his quieter form this season. His trademark aggressive running and footwork was back, and he terrorised the Dragons all game. He scored Canberra’s first try and churned out almost 100 metres in the first half alone. For Canberra to bounce back from a poor season in 2015, it needs one of its few representative-class players fit and firing.
RAIDERS MUST DO EVERYTHING TO KEEP VAUGHAN
Gungahlin junior Paul Vaughan has been outstanding in his first full NRL season this year. So much so, there’s plenty of talk that a number of clubs are watching his contract situation with great interest at the Raiders. The prop was again a standout for Canberra against the Dragons, and his rare blend of speed, footwork, size and work rate will be attractive on the open market. He’s off contract at the end of 2015, and the Raiders have made him and centre Jarrod Croker the biggest priorities to lock up as soon as possible.
RAPANA’S LONG WAIT IS OVER
Jordan Rapana revealed this week he came very close to quitting the game to become a police officer last month. He’d be glad he didn’t after scoring his first try in 2197 days against the Dragons. Rapana played just five games for Gold Coast in 2008 before embarking on a two-year Mormon mission and dabbling in rugby. He showed great promise in his NRL return last week, capping it off against the Dragons by finishing some great lead-up work by Anthony Milford. Canberra is searching high and low for a fullback, but Rapana is showing he may have the potential to solve the problem. His big frame and strong running gave Canberra’s sets a big jump-start early. He almost plays like an extra forward. He signed for another season at the Raiders last week.
DUGAN'S CANBERRA RETURN
There were plenty of boos from the fans as they ''welcomed back'' former star Josh Dugan for his first game in Canberra since being sacked after the infamous Pineapple Cruiser rooftop incident. Once dubbed the next big thing at the Raiders, Dugan copped a big shot from his opposites in the centres, Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee, to the delight of the supporters. Dugan was exposed defensively in the first half by a rampaging Josh Papalii, but got his own back when he scored in the right-hand corner early in the second half.
MORRIS' MAGIC ACT
Dragons, NSW and Kangaroos winger Brett Morris produced an acrobatic finish for the third of his three tries, in a sensational individual performance. Morris suspended his body in mid air while being tackled by Edrick Lee, crashing into the corner post and somehow grounding the ball just inside the sideline in the in-goal. Morris led the Dragons from the front after taking over the captaincy in the absence of the injured Ben Creagh. The Dragons' other winger, Jason Nightingale, had a double of his own as they dominated the Raiders on the edges.