Raiders v Bulldogs at Goulburn Workers Arena
Raiders v Bulldogs at Goulburn Workers Arena, on Saturday, February 23. Photo: Colleen Petch
IT WAS his first day at the office for the Canberra Raiders after lodging his leave notice the night before.
But Josh Papalii showed no signs his pending move to Parramatta will be a distraction by putting in a solid performance in Canberra's trial win over Canterbury at Goulburn Workers Arena on Saturday night.
The Raiders were rocked on Friday by news that the star back-rower had signed a three-year deal worth about $1.5 million with the Eels, starting next season. But on Saturday night it was business as usual for the 20-year-old, who was off limits to the media afterward, but is keen to end his Raiders career on a high.
Parramatta cannot lodge Papalii's contract with the NRL until after round 13, giving Canberra time to change his mind. His teammates know a strong start to the season will help that cause, and the Raiders' first six games are against bottom-eight teams from last year.
Canberra five-eighth Josh McCrone will again be chief playmaker for the opening rounds, with Terry Campese (knee) not expected back until at least round five.
McCrone showed he is ready for that responsibility with a superb performance, setting up three Raiders tries in horrible wet conditions.
Two McCrone cross-field kicks produced four-pointers for Blake Ferguson and Dimitri Pelo, and his vision led to a Sandor Earl second-half try.
Canberra trailed 12-4 early in the second half but completely dominated the final half-hour. With the sodden conditions suiting their big forwards perfectly, the Raiders scored four straight tries to take a 22-12 lead.
Former Raider Drury Low scored late for the Bulldogs but Canberra held on to win its final trial in a confidence boost before its season-opener at Penrith on March 10.
Most importantly, both teams appeared to escape without any serious injuries.
Ferguson copped a head knock in the second half but will be available to play the Panthers.
''That's the first thing you want to get out of these trials. A couple of bumps and bruises. It was pretty reasonable quality for those conditions,'' Raiders coach David Furner said. ''I thought we handled it quite well.
''A couple of times in that first half we probably overplayed it a little bit. But I thought our second half was much better.
''I thought Papa was very good, very strong. There were some pleasing things, the defence was pleasing.''
It was hardly ideal conditions to develop combinations but veteran hooker Shaun Berrigan looked sharp and played long minutes with first choice rake Glen Buttriss (ankle) under an injury cloud.
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA RAIDERS 22 (Blake Ferguson, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Dimitri Pelo, Jarrad Kennedy, Sandor Earl tries; Anthony Milford goal) bt CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 18 (Josh Morris, Sam Perrett, Drury Low tries; Krisnan Inu 3 goals) at Goulburn Workers Arena on Saturday night.