CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 05: Shaun Fensom of the Raiders celebrates his try with team mate Josh McCrone during the round 22 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Brisbane Broncos at Canberra Stadium on August 5, 2012 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)Match stats
Sometime this week, a hotel bill Don Furner didn’t budget for will land on his desk.
But the Canberra Raiders boss won’t care less after it helped them earn two priceless points against Brisbane this afternoon to keep their finals hopes alive.
After the Raiders’ gritty 28-12 win at Canberra Stadium, just their fourth at home this year, it emerged the players spent Saturday night at Eagle Hawk Rydges to give the clash an away feel.
It was only a 10km round trip, but it proved a team that bonds together, wins together.
In recent weeks Canberra has been outstanding on the road and horrible at home.
Incredibly, the Raiders are now outside the top eight on points difference after a number of other favourable results this weekend.
Canberra has found it difficult to grind out wins this season, but yesterday showed the grit and determination it will need to launch a late run to September.
‘‘We finished our captain’s run [on Saturday] and just decided to book a hotel,’’ Raiders coach David Furner said.
‘‘I don’t know if we’d do that all the time, it’s about picking the moments.
‘‘That was a committed side we played against and I thought it was a really good game.
‘‘I praised the players defensively, it was a good effort.’’
Canberra skipper David Shillington said the move helped the Raiders “cocoon” themselves and develop a seige mentality ahead of a must-win game.
‘‘I think it was a great idea. We’ve been playing so well away and so poorly at home and it was worth a try,’’ he said.
‘‘It takes out a lot of external factors and distractions, the boys just hung out and played cards, and enjoyed each other’s company.’’
While the end margin was comfortable, the win was one of Canberra’s most satisfying, because it needed to play desperate football for 80 minutes to get the result.
After enjoying plenty of field position in the opening quarter, the Broncos scored first after 21 minutes when five-eighth Ben Hunt ran the ball on the last, leading to a try out wide to centre Alex Glenn.
But the Raiders responded soon afterward when hooker Travis Waddell barged over from dummy-half for just the third try of his 51-game career.
On the first set of the second half, Raiders centre Jarrod Croker put the hosts ahead for the first time with a miraculous try, his 15th of the season.
At full speed, Croker plucked a Sam Williams bomb from the grasp of Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman to give Canberra a 10-6 lead.
In the 57th minute, the crucial turning point in the match arrived when Brisbane failed to find touch off a penalty coming out of their own danger end.
From the next set lock Shaun Fensom, outstanding again for the Raiders, steamed onto a short ball from Williams to extend the lead to 16-6.
But seven minutes later the Raiders delivered a ‘coach killer’ of their own when a clearing kick from fullback Josh Dugan went out on the full.
The Broncos capitalised through Glenn’s second try of the game, allowing the Queenslanders to reduce the deficit to 16-12.
But Dugan more than atoned for his error with two brilliant individual late tries to seal the win.
Even without key prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Canberra’s forwards were collectively superb against one of the star-studded packs in the NRL.
Lock Fensom was again a colossus, churning through 50 tackles and 179 metres off 23 hit-ups.
Shillington (164m, 24 tackles) and fellow prop Dane Tilse (135m, 25 tackles) were also outstanding, as were back-rowers Joel Thompson and Josh Papalii.
Furner issued a guarantee this week his troops would play aggressively, and they duly delivered.
‘‘Instead of having three field sessions this week we had two. It was a good call because we had a few bumps and bruises and some of the young players were fatigued,’’ Shillington said.
‘‘A couple of good moves paid off for us there, so it was nice to thank the coaches with a win.’’
Canberra is now locked in equal eighth spot with Gold Coast, Newcastle, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers (who play Parramatta tomorrow night), setting up a grandstand final month of the regular season.
The Raiders will start favourites against strugglers Penrith (away) and Roosters (home) their next two matches.
An unlikely place in September is no longer just a mathematical possibility, but a very real one.
CANBERRA RAIDERS 28 (Josh Dugan 2, Travis Waddell, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom tries; Croker 4 goals) bt BRISBANE BRONCOS 12 (Alex Glenn 2 tries; Peter Wallace 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium yesterday. Referees: Gavin Badger, Chris James. Crowd: 9850.
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