Away side show just enough class to earn first win of the season.
It might not have always been clinical, but that did not mean it was not compelling viewing.
The Canberra Raiders have opened their account for the 2014 season, after a gusty 26-20 victory over the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium.
With the lead changing hands four times in the game, the see-sawing game was only wrapped by the Raiders in the final minute when Edrick Lee crossed thanks to a Knights mistake.
The loss for the home side sours their impressive record against the Raiders at Hunter Stadium, with Newcastle winning 10-12 against the ACT-based side previously.
However, the victory was soured by a serious ankle injury to Josh Papalli, who left the field in the 49th minute after his ankle buckled underneath.
A testy opening few minutes saw both sides nearly come to blows, with victory obviously almost worth double competition points after the Knights and Raiders’ first-up losses.
Canberra scored the opening try for the game after a clever kick from Jack Wighton off the
outside of his boot, found Jarrod Croker flying through for the line.
The set-play was given the green light by the video referee and Anthony Milford slotted the conversion, giving the Raiders a 6-0 lead.
With the Raiders’ licking game being average during the first 10 minutes of the game, the Knights eventually took advantage of the good field position.
Matt Minto, on his NRL debut for Newcastle, fired a long ball to Akuila Uate who raced down the right wing and bashed his way across the line to get his side back in the game.
Kurt Gidley missed his shot on goal and the Raiders kept their slim lead, 6-4.
Canberra were over in the 19th minute when Croker showed great timing to collect a Terry Campese bomb out of the arms of Minto.
However, on replays the Canberra centre appeared to lose control after he landed in the Knights’ in-goal area, with the video referee taking away the likely six points from the touring side.
And in the blink of an eye the Knights went the length of the field in the next set of six, as Beau Scott streamed through a hole before carrying two Raiders defenders across the line.
Gidley converted from next to the posts, as Newcastle grabbed the lead for the first time in the game at 10-6.
Off the back of a penalty, Canberra sub Josh McCrone made the most of some sloppy ruck defence
from the Knights as he beat four defenders to score.
Canberra will have an extra headache during the week, with backrower Joel Edwards on report for a dangerous tackle
The Raiders seemingly wasted a golden chance to lead at half-time after Milford surged downfield with his pass towards Croker finding the turf, and eventually the play broke down and the Knights survived.
After an, at times, sloppy first half from both teams, the Knights and the Raiders were both
told by their coaches at half-time that if they retain possession better they can both win.
Josh Papalli then left the field in the 49th minute after his ankle buckled underneath
him when he was tackled from behind.
The hulking Raiders’ backrower struggled to get off the field and could be in doubt for at least a couple of weeks in what would be a big blow for his side early in the season.
Milford showed why he is rated as one of the best young talents in the NRL, by slicing through the
Knights’ defence line before finding Croker backing up on the inside.
The Canberra centre’s second try was crucial as it gave them a six-point buffer.
McManus for the Knights when a kick into the in-goal rebounded off two Canberra players before landing straight into his arms.
In what will be the the Scotman’s easiest try for the year the prolific point-scorer touched down and, again, the result went back on the table thanks to Gidley’s conversion.
The home side again put their noses in front as Tyrone Roberts showed the Raiders’ defenders a clean pair of heels, before scoring out wide.
Gidley could not add the extras as the lead remained at four.
Paul Vaughan finished off a sensational team try by the Raiders, as Milford again opened up the
Knights’ defence before finding Croker in support.
Vaughan showed plenty of speed on the inside for a forward to take the final pass, which looked border-line forward, and give his side a 22-20 lead with 11 minutes left.
The Raiders sealed the game when the Knights coughed the ball up on their own try-line before Edrick Lee dived over in the corner as the away side ran out winners 26-20.