An injury depleted Aquis Gold Coast Titans side have narrowly gone down 30-22 to the Canberra Raiders at Cbus Super Stadium this afternoon.
The Titans were forced into an early backline reshuffle after losing centre Nathan Davis in the 22nd minute to a suspected broken right ankle before losing Eddy Pettybourne due to concussion early in the second half, leaving the side with only 15 available men.
Despite this and with only 39 per cent of the possession in the first half, the Titans managed to go into the break trailing at only 18-10 thanks to a controlled kicking performance by Tyrone Roberts who put in two deft cross-field chips leading to Titans’ tries.
But the heavy workload and mounting Raiders attacking possession caught up with the Titans in the second-half with the away-side registering two second-half tries through winger Brenko Lee to race away to the 30-10 lead after 56 minutes.
The Lee try, at 24-10 in the 58th minute, was a heart-breaker for the Titans. Lee took the odds by sticking out his left hand as Zeb Taia drew him to him down the right side and, when a clean pass to Anthony Don would have resulted in a certain Titans try, it was a 10 to 12-point turnaround when the ball bounced of Lee’s arm and he regathered and ran 80 metres to score and open up a 30-10 lead.
The Titans managed to arrest the momentum and ensure for an entertaining finish for the 12,645 strong home crowd by scoring two late tries to reduce the margin back to 30-22 but they fell just short with the Raiders’ defence holding strong to take the win.
Titans coach Neil Henry said it was already going to be a tough ask for his side against a much larger Raiders outfit and it was only made more difficult with the high injury toll and some poor defensive errors.
“Although our completion rate was pretty good we just didn’t have a lot of ball and with a couple of knockdowns and repeat sets going against us, they got a bit of a roll on,” he said. The Raiders had 70 per cent of the ball in the first 15 minutes.
“We gave them a few penalties when they were coming out of yardage so that rolled them down the field and couple that with some poor defensive efforts and we were behind on the scoreboard early.
“We had to reshuffle with some back-rowers out at centres which made it difficult as well but still there’s a job to do and we missed too many tackles.
“They’re a big team and our possession was okay in the end but it was certainly lopsided at half-time which took its toll on our energy along with losing two men.
“There’s a lot to play for the way the competition is but you have to deal with what your dealt sometimes, we lost two players, so we ended up being quite small out there with both our hookers on and our second-rowers out in the centres, so in the end it was a bit of land of the giants versus us at the end.
“The boys defended their line and we were able to turn that into some points late, we’ve got a bit of fight in us but realistically I was disappointed with some of those defensive efforts for some of their tries.
“At the end of the day it was our defensive lapses which contributed to the end result not one or two decisions.
“It puts a fair bit of emphasis on our turn-around into the Warriors and the bye, so makes that game very crucial to our chances.”
Co-captain Nathan Friend said it was a courageous effort from his side but they need to control the ball better if they want to come away with wins in these tight conditions.
“We were down a couple of numbers and it was unfortunate against a big team like that and we obviously wanted to start well but it just throws a bit of chaos when you lose someone early,” he said.
“I thought we did well to come back into that game to get within two points at one stage but it was just a few errors which cost us and then they put a few back-to-back.
“I certainly feel we’ve got a great team, but our ball control needs to be better and our defensive reads. Any top-four side is great defensively and that’s what we’ve got to work on.”
It was the Raiders who opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a barnstorming Paul Vaughan crashing through some soft goal-line defence before Jarrod Croker added the extras to give the away-side a 6-0 lead.
A high-shot from Peats in-front of the posts gifted the Raiders an opportunity to extend their lead and Croker converted to take their lead out to 8-0 after 13minutes of play.
Back-to-back penalties piggy-backed the Titans up the field and they took full advantage with Nene Macdonald outleaping his opposite number to reel in a Tyrone Roberts chip-kick to score in the corner and reduce the deficit back to 8-4.
With the possession still heavily in favour of the Raiders, it got worse for the Titans with centre Nathan Davis being forced from the field with a severe ankle injury forcing the side into a backline reshuffle with Zeb Taia filling in at centre.
The Raiders targeted the reshuffled right edge with a deliberate Sezer cross-field kick being caught by a flying Croker to plant the ball down. With the Raiders captain unable to convert his own try, the Raiders lead stayed at 12-4 after 23 minutes.
The Raiders got across the line in the 28th minute through Junior Paulo but the bunker rightfully ruled it was double-movement by Paulo to promote the ball across the line.
There was no denying the Titans up the other end of the field with Chris McQueen cleaning up the scraps of a Roberts cross-field kick to plant the ball in the corner before Roberts added the extras to reduce the deficit back to 12-10.
But some ill-discipline in defence by the Titans gifted the Raiders another attacking raid before the break and they capitalised with a deft Jack Wighton pass putting Croker in under the posts for his second try of the afternoon. With Croker converting his own try, the Raiders took an 18-10 half-time lead.
It was the Raiders who registered first points in the second-half in the 48th minute with winger Brenko Lee just managing to stay in-field to plant the ball down to finish a crafty backline play before Croker added the extras to give the away-side the 24-10 lead.
The Raiders turned defence into attack in the 56th minute with Lee intercepting a Taia pass to race 85 metres down-field and score adjacent to the posts to give Croker an easy conversion for a 30-10 lead.
With both sides going set-for-set, a bit of niggle crept into the game and Greg Bird was sin-binned in the 65th minute after being involved in his second scuffle within two Raiders attacking sets.
With the momentum in their favour and the extra man, the Raiders look to have extended their lead but were again denied by the bunker who ruled a knock-on, but the Raiders received the ball back as there was a Titans strip in the lead-up.
A relieving penalty gifted the Titans an attacking opportunity and despite being down a man, the Titans managed to cross the line with Ash Taylor getting an offload away to James to score next to the posts to shoot to the top of the Titans try-scoring board before Roberts converted to reduce the deficit back to 30-16 with under ten minutes remaining.
The Titans continued to compete and ensured for a nervous finish for the Raiders when Macdonald grabbed his second in the dying minutes before Roberts converted from the sideline to reduce the full-time deficit back to 30-22.
The Titans will look to hit-back next week when they take on the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
Canberra Raiders 30 (J Croker 2, B Lee 2, P Vaughan tries; J Croker 5 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 22 (N Macdonald 2, C McQueen, R James tries; T Roberts 3 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Crowd: 12,645