Canberra Raiders Cup: Gungahlin Bulls v Goulburn Workers Bulldogs
Gungahlin clashes with Goulburn in the Canberra Raiders Cup. Photo: Graham Tidy
The Canberra Raiders Cup semi-finalists have been set in stone after Goulburn ended Gungahlin's playoff hopes with a grinding 28-4 win at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval on Saturday.
But the race for the minor premiership has been blown wide open after the Queanbeyan Blues were held to a shock 10-all draw by competition stragglers Woden Valley.
Looking to secure its first finals appearance in three years the Bulldogs never got out of second gear, but did enough to account for an undermanned Bulls.
The Queanbeyan Kangaroos' 28-10 win over Belconnen United and West Belconnen's 44-20 victory against Tuggeranong means just one point separates the top four sides.
It sets up an intriguing battle for a top-two spot, and the double chance in the finals. The top-four play each other next Sunday, with Goulburn hosting the Kangaroos and West Belconnen at home to the Blues.
The Blues and Warriors (15 points) now share the competition lead, with the Roos and Goulburn just a point adrift.
Needing to win to move to within two points of fourth spot and keep its finals hopes alive, Gungahlin sorely missed strike weapons Dwayne Connors and David Howell, absent through Country representative duties.
In a dour affair played in sloppy conditions the Bulldogs led 12-4 at half-time, and their extra class in the backs told with three unanswered second-half tries.
Winger Junior Vatikani crossed for a double, including a classy four-pointer set up by a brilliant Mitch Turner offload.
Goulburn player-coach Mick Picker said their focus would now turn to sealing the double chance now finals football was assured.
"Some people find you're better off playing throughout the finals and not having that week off, but if you can get two chances, you want it,'' he said.
"It's a great competition this year, anyone can win out of that top four. It's good to know now we've made the finals and that pressure isn't there any more."
Gungahlin coach Michael Slater urged his side to stick together as a unit next season, and is adamant the gap between it and the top four can be closed.
He was pleased with his side's effort considering they had to call up four players who played reserve grade to fill their bench.
"The players here we've got aren't far away, Rome wasn't built in a day,'' he said.
"You lose your fullback [Connors] and an ex-NRL player [Howell] and it's not going to be easy.
"We need to stay together. We need to keep this club together and start building for next year.''
CANBERRA RAIDERS CUP
Goulburn 28 (Junior Vatikani 2, Ben Picker, Michael Bani, Luke Turner tries; Picker 4 goals) bt Gungahlin 4 (Nathan Corby try); Queanbeyan Blues 10 (Craig Wilkinson, Dave Pangai tries; Wilkinson goal) drew with Woden Valley 10 (Tim Crome, Junior Moala tries; Crome goal); West Belconnen 44 (Ryan McQueen 2, Scott Jones, Bobby Roberts, Dayne Ewings, Ryley Thomas, Joe Cramp, Tim Sloman tries; Jones 5 goals) bt Tuggeranong 20 (Carl Johnson, Brendan Brophy, Adam Raptis, Jamal Nchouki tries; Johnson 2 goals).