Canberra has ended a tumultuous week in perfect fashion after holding on to beat St George Illawarra 24-22 to keep its season alive.
In Sunday’s later match, Gold Coast snapped a 10-match losing streak with a 44-24 win over Manly in Robina.
With coach Ricky Stuart banned from attending Canberra Stadium and speaking to his players as part of the fallout from his tirade at Penrith’s Jaeman Salmon, the Raiders survived a late scare to finish round 22 one match outside the top eight.
Canberra assistant coach Brett White said Stuart would have been on edge as the Dragons threatened a late comeback to steal the match.
“He wouldn’t want it to be about him, we’re still fighting for finals, we’re still punching away,” White said.
“The week is done, ‘Sticky’ (Stuart) will be back in on Wednesday, and it’s all finished as far as we’re concerned.
“He’s done his time and what Ricky’s done for this club… what he’s done for the community, that’s who he is.”
Dragons’ five-eighth Talatau Amone had looked to end the Raiders’ season with a late onslaught, completing his first career hat-trick before creating Tautau Moga’s 75th-minute try, only for Zac Lomax to push a potentially equalizing conversion attempt wide.
It allowed the Raiders to end round 22 still one match back from the eighth-placed Sydney Roosters with three rounds remaining before the finals.
Young fullback Xavier Savage had his fingerprints all over the Raiders’ win with two try-assists, including a sweet grubber kick that allowed winger Albert Hopoate to score.
With star prop Joe Tapine missing because of a rib injury, the Raiders’ forwards shared the workload.
They were led by Josh Papalii (140m), Ryan Sutton (110m) and Hudson Young (67m), who scored the opening try of the match from a Zac Woolford grubber kick.
“The leaders have been fantastic this week … that’s where the drive this week really came from and why we’re able to just keep things as normal,” White said.
“While there’s a chance, we’ll keep fighting and I just said to the boys we’ll just keep punching away.”
The loss removes the Dragons’ from the finals equation, having won just one of their past six matches in a disappointing end to their year.
They hit the front in the first half as Amone twice capitalized on soft Canberra defensive efforts to score tries, but could not stay with the Raiders when their intensity lifted.
“(Amone) was outstanding, it’s been a tough year for ‘Junior’, first year as a full-time starting five-eighth … in our most important game of the year I thought he really stood up which is great,” Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said.
“Against good sides playing away from home, we just gave them points too easily at different times and it was too hard to reel back.
“But that’s not to question the character we showed all day.”
Titans post drought-breaking win
The Gold Coast halted its losing streak and essentially ended Manly’s season with an upset win over the Sea Eagles.
Playing without inspirational captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui due to the impending birth of his second child, the Titans ended a run of 10 consecutive defeats with Beau Fermor scoring a double in the much-needed victory.
The 20-point loss means the 10th-placed Sea Eagles are six points outside the top eight with three matches to play.
Given eighth-placed Sydney Roosters hold a significantly better differential, it would take a miraculous set of results for Des Hasler’s team to reach the finals.
Adding injury to insult for the Sea Eagles in Hasler’s 300th match as Manly coach, flying winger Jason Saab suffered a suspected ACL injury in the second half.
The match started ominously with Titans’ prop Jaimin Jolliffe spilling the ball on his first carry from the kick-off.
Haumole Olakau’atu thought he had got the visitors in front in the fifth minute when he crashed over but the try was disallowed after a video review showed Martin Tapau had knocked-on in the build-up.
Jolliffe made up for his early error, hanging onto an offload from Fa’asuamaleaui’s replacement Jarrod Wallace to give the Titans an early lead.
Reuben Garrick hit back for the Sea Eagles but Dylan Walker’s sin-binning in the 20th minute changed the match.
Walker had only just come onto the field from the interchange bench when he was sent to the sin-bin and placed on report for a high tackle on Titans’ winger Jojo Fifita.
The youngster scored off the resulting set to put Gold Coast back in front after a great cut-out pass by halfback Tanah Boyd.
Jake Trbojevic’s 25th-minute try, despite a desperate effort from Titans’ fullback Jayden Campbell to hold up the back rower, again leveled the scores with the Sea Eagles still down a player.
But Gold Coast took an eight-point lead into the break after Brian Kelly’s intercept try from a Daly Cherry-Evans pass and a penalty conversion from Boyd.
Desperate to avoid a second wooden spoon in four years, the Titans raced to their biggest lead of the game with tries to Fermor and AJ Brimson early in the second half, putting them 20 points clear with 25 minutes to play.
David Fifita then delivered the highlight play of the day, busting through Manly’s defense before sprinting clear to score.
Brad Parker and Tolutau Koula added some gloss to the scoreline for the visitors with late tries before Fermor’s late run through some tired Manly defense ensured Gold Coast move above Wests Tigers and off the bottom of the ladder.