Warriors 50 Raiders 16
Raiders vs Warriors
Josh McCrone of the Raiders throws a pass for Shaun Johnson of the Warriors intercepts. Photo: Hannah Johnston/Getty Images
RAIDERS centre Jarrod Croker scored a hat-trick of tries and all of Canberra's 16 points, but the final scoreboard told the story of the side's sorry NRL season.
Canberra's dim final hopes were extinguished as the New Zealand Warriors moved into the top eight, the Warriors scoring 44 unanswered points to crush the Raiders 50-16.
''Personally, if I didn't score those three tries, I probably would have had a dud game,'' Croker lamented.
''We came over here pretty positively and our season was on the line. That second half wasn't acceptable, whether it's round one or round 25.
''It's extremely disappointing, unfortunately it puts us out of the race.''
Despite all the turmoil at the club, Croker's first two tries in the opening 25 minutes gave the Raiders a deserved six-point lead.
When Croker picked up a wayward Shaun Johnson pass and sprinted 80 metres to score, the Raiders went ahead 12-6 and had all the momentum.
Enter Manu Vatuvei, the Warriors behemoth showing why he's earned the nickname ''The Beast'' with a powerful display.
Twice, he brushed away Raiders fullback Reece Robinson like he wasn't there, using strength, size and skill to lead the Warriors to a 20-12 half-time advantage.
Johnson and Vatuvei were both brilliant, crossing for hat-tricks of their own, in the space of seven and nine minutes respectively.
But soft defence from the Raiders was at fault too. The Raiders have conceded a whopping 210 points in their past five games.
''We just had to show a bit more intensity in our defence,'' Raiders prop David Shillington said.
''Right from the start, there was a third man down on the ground and our edge defence was pretty weak.
''[Raiders interim coach Andrew Dunemann] spoke pretty sternly to us at half-time, but unfortunately they kept rolling through us in the second half.''
Johnson, the diminutive playmaker with the Benji Marshall-esque footwork, scored his tries in the 49th, 52nd and 56th minutes to leave the Raiders shell-shocked.
Croker picked up his third try of the night, but by that time the match was well and truly over.
Rookie Raiders halfback Anthony Milford tried throughout, but received little in the way of creative support from returning five-eighth and captain Terry Campese.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Raiders and leaves them in 12th on the table with one round to go.
''The opposition were great in that second half - they were hard to handle. We couldn't match them,'' Dunemann said.
''The flood of possession was against us … We didn't defend as well as we would have liked, but that has been an issue for the whole year, I suppose.''
The Warriors scored nine tries, to improve their for-and-against and their chances of remaining in the finals hunt.
But with a clutch of teams sitting around the cut-line for the top eight, skipper Simon Mannering said he would only be worrying about a victory heading into the final-round clash away to St George Illawarra next weekend.
''To be honest I haven't looked at what's needed,'' Mannering said.
''I know we have to win to be a chance. That's all I'm concentrating on.
''I guess we'll see next week what we're looking at, but obviously the win's the most important thing.''
Warriors coach Matthew Elliott said he encouraged his team's razzle dazzle.
''The one thing I'll never do is inhibit our way of playing,'' Elliott said.
''As long as we build the foundation, we earn the right to play that way.
''In many respects, particularly with the ball tonight, we did do that.
''I have such a high level of belief in the team that if we do that, and we show the foundation stuff, we can play the football. Sometimes we just get the order wrong.''
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 50 (S Johnson 3, M Vatuvei 3, N Laumape, S Mannering, E Taylor tries; S Johnson 7 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 16 (J Croker 3 tries; J Croker 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Referees: Gavin Badger, Alan Shortall.