Raiders 36 Tigers 16
Raiders under-20s halfback Mitchell Cornish. Photo: Brendan Esposito
It's not often a coach describes his team as ''jaded'' after winning a semi-final by 20 points.
But in a warning to preliminary final rivals Penrith, Canberra under-20s coach Mick Mantelli insists they can find another gear despite a 36-16 thrashing of Wests Tigers.
The Raiders dominated the opening hour of the cut-throat contest against their fierce rivals at Allianz Stadium, leading 36-0 before easing off late.
It didn't atone for last year's 46-6 grand final humiliation against the Tigers, but it was a big step toward closure.
The Tigers had won the past four meetings, including a heated battle at Campbelltown in round 15 where four players were suspended after an all-in brawl.
The Tigers were missing key front-rowers Nathan Brown and Andy Fiagatusa through injury, and lost star halfback Luke Brooks for half the match with an ankle problem.
But it was a strong bounce back from Canberra, the minor premiers, after a qualifying loss to Canterbury last week.
''To be honest, I thought we were probably still a bit jaded from last week, I thought we could lift a bit more,'' Mantelli said.
''I think we can [go another level], definitely.
''Penrith will throw a bit more at us than the Tigers, who were down a few troops. We need to pick our defence up.''
At 36-0, the Tigers lifted to score three tries in five minutes to close to 36-16 with 10 minutes left.
Shortly afterwards Brooks looked set to bridge the gap further, but a desperate covering tackle from winger Jonathon Reuben halted the comeback.
''That was excellent from Jono, that's the type of desperate footy we need, which a couple of the others were lacking at stages,'' Mantelli said.
''It shows we can compete against these teams. They had a hoodoo on us, and we nearly knocked over the Bulldogs last week for the first time since 2008.
''I'm itching to get a hold of the Bulldogs. If we see them again it'll be in a grand final.''
Raiders halfback Mitch Cornish hit back from a sub-par showing against the Bulldogs with a brilliant controlling performance, particularly early.
Canberra dominated up front, lock Luke Bateman (181 metres, 44 tackles, five tackle breaks) justifying his burgeoning reputation after starting the year in SG Ball. Fellow forwards Patrick Mago (139 metres, nine tackle breaks, one try), Mitchell Barnett (143 metres, one try) and Tahakilu Pangai (150m) were also outstanding.
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA RAIDERS 36 (Brenko Lee, Jonathon Reuben, Jeremy Hawkins, Patrick Mago, Ricky Garard, Mitchell Barnett, Dennis Tomarchio tries; Mitch Cornish 4 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 16 (Brenden Santi, Manaia Cherrington, Andrew Kazzi tries; Manaia Rudolph 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium on Friday.