Cronulla 12 Canberra 22
Watchful eye: ASADA officials stand in the tunnel as Cronulla players run out onto Remondis Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
The Canberra Raiders will take wins anyway they can get them this year, but stand-in captain Josh McCrone admits beating the Cronulla Sharks will count for nothing if they can't back it up this week.
The Raiders added another brutal blow to the drama-stricken Sharks on Sunday, launching a second-half comeback to win the battle of the cellar dwellers 22-12 at Remondis Stadium.
NRL round 24: Cronulla v Canberra
The Canberra Raiders take on the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium, Sydney. Photo: Mark Kolbe
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Feki, Robinson||Tries||2||Tries||4||Players||McIlwrick, Croker, Milford(2)|
|Players||Gordon 2/2 (100%)||Conversions||2||Conversions||3||Players||Croker 3/4 (75%)|
|Players||Penalty goals||0||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players|
The win moves them clear of the dreaded wooden spoon, but they are by no means out of danger and have set their sights on finishing their season of disaster on a positive note.
Coach Ricky Stuart said the ugly win helps the team "get a better night's sleep, a bit easier to go to work tomorrow" and "puts a bit of joy" in his players' lives.
But the next challenge is ensuring the Raiders avoid the worst home record in history. They will need to win their remaining two games against the Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels just to equal the lowest amount of wins in the capital in a season.
The Raiders have won just two home games this year and haven't won back-to-back matches anywhere.
"We want to put on a good show at home," McCrone said. "We've talked about it a lot, but it's about actions now.
"We know we can still play better, but we're happy with the win. A win is a win. We showed the talent we've got in the second half and it was impressive seeing the way the young guys stood up."
Everyone expected the Raiders to beat the Sharks, putting Canberra in between a rock and a hard place.
A loss would have been unforgivable, but even a win would have clouds hanging over it because of the Sharks' off-field turmoil.
Cronulla's year from hell hit rock bottom during the week when the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority suspended some past and current players, including captain Paul Gallen.
Their year has bounced from drama to drama, including interim coach Peter Sharp stepping down, Andrew Fifita's alleged road rage incident, Beau Ryan's retirement and now the ASADA debacle.
Stuart, who coached the Sharks from 2007 to 2010, sympathised with Cronulla's situation.
"The adversity they've had would have been so difficult," he said.
"There was a lot of pride and spirit, credit to them. I feel sorry for them in what they've had to endure over the last 12 months.
"I have [been in contact with Gallen] right throughout the season, but I've left him alone the last few days. Gal's a mate ... he'll be on the phone to me if he needs it. I'm sure he's doing it hard."
But they stunned the woeful Raiders in the opening exchanges to hold a 6-0 lead at the break. A Canberra loss would have been the lowest point in the club's history.
McCrone said he "put the team in a hole" by making too many first-half errors, but was injected at hooker after the break.
However, Anthony Milford and Jarrod Croker led a revival. Milford scored two tries and set up two more, while Croker passed Mal Meninga into third on the Raiders' all-time highest scorers' list.
The Raiders should be able to avoid the wooden spoon now, sitting two points clear of the Sharks with two games left in the season.
Beating the Sharks offered temporary reprieve from a tough year and will only hide the cracks momentarily.
The Raiders are rebuilding and Stuart said last week the rut "ain't going to change" until he recruits some star power.
Commentators Steve Menzies and Greg Alexander said the dismal first half against the Sharks was evidence of why both teams were anchored to the bottom of the ladder.
At one point the crowd started cheering for a field goal to break a 0-0 deadlock in the first half.
But when you're 15th, have won just five games and struggling to get any momentum, any win is a bonus.
"It's been a very long, arduous season," Stuart said. "What's getting us through is camaraderie and spirit, and attitude.
"Be it an ugly win or attractive win, we got two points. You'll probably get a better night's sleep, a bit easier to go to work tomorrow. We got that win purely by sticking together.
"It will be valuable lessons for the future when we eventually get rolling. That win is just to put a bit of joy in their lives."
Raiders captain Terry Campese could finish the season in NSW Cup after making his comeback for Mounties on Saturday.
Stuart will review Campese's selection contention on Monday.
"We've been slogging away all year and not getting any credit," prop Dane Tilse said.
"We came together as a team in Darwin, the boys are just focused on getting as many wins as we can for the fans."
CANBERRA RAIDERS 22 (Anthony Milford 2, Matt McIlwrick, Jarrod Croker tries; Croker 3 goals) bt CRONULLA SHARKS 12 (Sosaia Feki, Tim Robinson tries; Michael Gordon 2 goals) at Cronulla on Sunday. Referees: Henry Perenara and Gavin Reynolds.