On the way up: Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii is tackled by Penrith players in Canberra last night. Photo: Stefan PostlesThey’re making a surge toward the top four, but Canberra’s outside back depth is reaching crisis point after Jarrod Croker injured his left knee in last night’s 24-12 win over Penrith.
Having already missed three games this year with a similar issue, the centre limped from the field midway through the second half.
It’s the last thing the Raiders need after in-form winger Edrick Lee was ruled out for three months with a broken arm earlier this week.
With NSW centre Blake Ferguson unavailable for next week’s away clash with Wests Tigers, the Raiders’ attacking arsenal will be stretched to breaking point.
Croker’s injury soured an otherwise crucial win for the Raiders, who are now just one point behind fourth-placed Manly.
Respected commentators hopped on the Canberra Raiders bandwagon in droves this week, naming them the major threat to the top four – Souths, Melbourne, the Roosters and Manly.
Peter Sterling, Andrew Johns and Phil Gould all used their media commitments to warn the NRL heavyweights the Raiders are beginning to warm up.
And the Green Machine only enhanced that reputation at a freezing Canberra Stadium, their 10th straight home win.
Ironically, Panthers boss Gould’s words were confirmed against his own side.
The Raiders have long been the NRL’s most frustrating enigma but the stars seem to be aligning in the capital.
Star playmaker Terry Campese is beginning to hit his straps after two injury-plagued seasons. Their huge forward pack keeps rolling, setting the platform for their lethal back-line to tear teams apart.
Canberra took a 6-0 lead after just three minutes when Ferguson outleapt Penrith’s Travis Robinson chasing a Terry Campese high kick.
In the 15th minute Robinson dropped another Campese bomb, allowing identical twin Reece to double the Raiders’ lead in their first NRL game against each other.
But Penrith hit back in the 29th minute when winger David Simmons finished off some fine lead-up work from Luke Walsh and Matt Moylan.
However, the Raiders were up 18-6 at the break when the hosts were the beneficiaries of a huge slice of luck just before half-time.
Halfback Josh McCrone threw a pass straight into Josh Papalii’s head, the halfback swooping on the ricochet.
A second-half try to Paul Vaughan sealed the result for the Raiders, before Simmons grabbed a consolation try with his second four-pointer.
Penrith’s loss was compounded by an early sternum injury to prop Mose Masoe, while Josh Mansour (closed eye) didn’t play any part in the second half.
NSW coach Laurie Daley’s heart would have skipped a beat when Ferguson appeared to hurt his left shoulder in the second half.
But he will be fine for Origin II at Suncorp Stadium after playing out the match with no difficulty.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.