In the biggest upset of the first round of NRL finals, the Canberra Raiders held off the Panthers so the number seven team on the ladder narrowly defeated the second-ranked team by two points at CUA Stadium on Saturday night.
Coming into the qualifiers as the form team having won eight of their past nine games, the Green Machine again showed they were true premiership contenders and no pretenders with a huge away game that has given them the green light to play in this weekend’s semis and saw them become the first club this year to string six straight wins together.
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It was a fast and furious first half with five tries scored, the first just five minutes in when star skipper Terry Campese opened the Raiders account.
Jarrod Croker converted the try and the underdogs were up 6 – nil.
Just four minutes later the Panthers brilliant stand in fullback Michael Gordon answered back by scoring and converting a try for his side to equal the score six all.
Keeping up the pace, Dane Tilse scored Canberra’s second converted try not long after crossing in the 16th minute and Crocker added the extra two to put them in front 12 – 6.
Then Gordon kept the arm-wrestle on the board going when he scored his second of the night in the 22nd minute, converting his own try again so it was a 12 all deadlock.
With six minutes left until halftime, Canberra got the advantage when Bronson Harrison got another converted try and the visitors became the odds-on favourites leading 18 – 12.
Back in the second half the Raiders got off to a flying start with Reece Robinson scoring just three minutes in and Croker making it a perfect four from four record on the boot to extend their lead 24 – 12.
In a nail-biting final quarter Penrith dug deep and Sandor Earl scored a late double with tries in the 60th and 67th minutes to bring them within two points, but as the Green Machine stepped up in defence the big cats couldn’t close the gap completely and went down 24 – 22.
Earl’s second try was one of the most amazing acrobatic four-pointers of the year as the winger planted the ball while up in the air outside the field of play.
It was a devastating result for the season’s leading goalkicker Gordon who had started the match so strongly, as he missed the kick on Earl’s first try and the two points were the difference in the end.
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