He craziest of 2020 seasons would end for either the Canberra Raiders or Cronulla Sharks as the two sides met at the GIO Stadium in Canberra, as fifth took on eighth in the first elimination quarter final. Cronulla won the meeting between the two sides last week by ten points but both coaches made a number of changes to their sides, having rested players last time out. The bookies were predicting a Canberra win with the home side strong favourites.
The Raiders welcomed back nine players to their ranks including Nicoll-Klokstad, Whitehead, Williams, Croker and Bateman while the Sharks called on the services of, amongst others, Ramien, Dugan, Katoa and Talakai as they made seven changes to their side.
NRL knock-out play-offs were upon us.
The Sharks set out their stall early on, pushing the Raiders over their line and forcing a drop out and on five minutes the visitors appeared to have scored the opener as Chad Townsend chased down a kick through, Townsend bounced the ball in-goal but John Bateman interfered with the chasing player and Townsend kicked the resulting penalty.
The two-pointer stunned the home side into action as they marched downfield with Joseph Tapine stepping off the right foot before muscling his way through five tacklers to place the ball down under the sticks. Jarrod Croker added the conversion for a 6-2 lead.
With nineteen on the clock Ronaldo Mulitalo scored the first Sharks four-pointer taking a superb Connor Tracey pass to outpace the winger and dive for the corner. Townsend pulled the touchline conversion, wide of the left upright, the sides all tied up.
Four minutes later Townsend kicked his second penalty of the night to restore the Sharks lead.
The lead was extended on twenty-four thanks to an awful dropped ball from Whitehead five out from his own line. The ball was kicked forward by Elliott Whitehad and plucked out of the air by Blayke Brailey who stepped through the stunned Raiders defence and ground by the left stick. Townsend added the goal for an eight-point lead.
With two minutes left on the first half clock George Williams swung the momentum back towards the Raiders showing Scott Sorensen a clean pair of heels with a sixty-metre dash down the right win to score in the corner. Croker was unable to add the extras but there was just a four-point gap between the sides at the break. It was still ‘all to play for’ in the second forty.
The Raiders were back level on forty-seven after a quick tap by Jack Wighton who took full advantage of the Sharks defence not being set, Wade Graham shouting for a captain’s challenge, to go in from twenty metres. Croker added the conversion and the home side were two points ahead.
Wighton got his second within two minutes juggling a high kick and somehow managing to regain possession to touch down. Croker kicked his third of the night to put Canberra into an eight-point lead scoring sixteen unanswered points.
Canberra eased themselves forward to next weeks matches when Wighton was this time provider giving a short pass to Williams to cross under the uprights. Croker was again accurate with the boot for 28-14, the home side totally in control with just over twenty minutes remaining.
Whitehead chased down a Croker kick on sixty-six to take the ball on his knees and ground for the sixth try of the evening for the Raiders. Croker pushed his kick across the front of the posts but at 32-14 with just thirteen minutes left the win was safe and Cronulla’s season was over.
The Sharks completed the came with a late consolation try Sione Katoa intercepting a wayward Williams pass to go fifty metres and ground in the right corner. Townsend added the conversion in off the post from wide , the final score being 32-20 in the favour of the Canberra Raiders.
The Sharks took the game to the Raiders throughout the first half and were good value for their lead at the interval, despite the blow of the margin being reduced just before the break. But the second half was a different story with one-way traffic from the Raiders seeing them home with points to spare as Cronulla had no answer to the English led onslaught from Bateman and Whitehead.
Canberra Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Valemei, Croker (4G), Rapana, Cotric, WIghton (2T), Williams (2T), Papalii, Starling, Soliola, Bateman, Whitehead (T), Tapine (T). Subs: Lui, Havili, Young, Harawira-Naera.
Cronulla Sharks: Kennedy, Katoa (T), Dugan, Ramien, Mulitalo (T), Tracey, Townsend (4G), Hamlin-Uele, Brailey (T), Rudolf, Nikora, Graham, Talakai. Subs: Woods, Sorensen, Fifita, WIlliams.
Referee: Grant Atkins.
Half Time: 10-14.
Full Time: 32-20.
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra.