Raiders’ fairytale cut short in NRL semi
September 16, 2022 / 11:00 pm
Canberra’s finals fairytale has come crashing down at the hands of a physically dominant Parramatta side, who neutralised the Raiders’ strike forwards at CommBank Stadium.
After scraping into the finals and eliminating Melbourne last week, the Raiders were vying to become just the fourth team in the NRL era to qualify for a preliminary final from eighth position on the ladder.
Canberra brought the NRL’s longest active winning streak into Friday night but could not match Parramatta’s muscle in their slow start and eventually lost 40-4: their biggest defeat of the season.
The Eels took control of possession so were able to limit the influence Raiders forward leaders Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii could have with ball in hand.
Much was made of the front-row battle in the lead-up to the semi-final but the Eels bypassed the middle of the park as they streaked away to their early lead.
“They got us early,” said Canberra coach Ricky Stuart.
“When you’ve got 35 or 40 per cent of the football, playing against a team like that who are on … they were too good.
“We didn’t beat ourselves, we got beaten by a better team.”
Parramatta scored three tries in 13 minutes during the first quarter of the match, all coming down the edges before Eels big man Junior Paulo exploited the hole left by Papalii, who had left the field for a spell just a minute earlier.
Tapine and Papalii – arguably the NRL’s form front-row pairing – finished with only 211 run metres between them, down on their combined average of 262.
In total, five Parramatta forwards finished with more run metres than the usually prolific Papalii and Tapine.
Penrith’s long kicking game thwarted Parramatta last week but neither Jamal Fogarty nor Jack Wighton put significant pressure on the Eels’ back three on Friday night.
Eels winger Waqa Blake failed to contain Nathan Cleary’s kicks in the first week of the finals but was inexplicably never targeted by the Raiders’ playmakers.
The Eels and Raiders throw the most and second-most offloads in the premiership respectively but Parramatta were better at igniting second-phase play.
By halftime, the Eels had made 10 offloads and the Raiders had thrown none, symptomatic of Parramatta’s victory in the collision battle.
After the Raiders threatened to open the scoring just after halftime, a Paulo offload gave Mitch Moses the try that put the result beyond doubt for Parramatta.
“It’s disappointing but I couldn’t be prouder of the team,” said Raiders captain Elliott Whitehead.
“After round eight, we were two from eight and everybody was writing us off. But we found away to pull it together and get the results we needed to get into the top eight.”
The Raiders’ only try came through Xavier Savage, who belted away on an 85-metre tear, but the Raiders were rarely a genuine threat in attack, due in no small part to their lack of possession and quality field position.
The loss marked the first time a team coached by Ricky Stuart had exited the finals series before the grand final qualifier and in turn, secured the Eels’ first preliminary final berth since 2009.
AAP (C) 2022
Image: The usually destructive Josh Papalii was well contained by Parramatta in their win over Canberra. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)