Ricky Stuart admits he could barely watch as Canberra almost threw away 12-POINT lead against Cronulla… as Raiders coach hails his side’s ‘grit’ in stealing last-gasp victory in NRL opener
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has praised his side’s grit after they snatched a first-round NRL win against Cronulla with a late Hudson Young try.
The Sharks looked to have nicked the points at GIO Stadium on Friday night when five-eighth Matt Moylan hit a perfect drop goal for a one-point lead on 74 minutes.
But the Raiders dug in and struck straight back, opting to chase a try rather than an equalising field goal.
Ricky Stewart has admitted he could barely watch the Raiders’ last-gasp victory over Sharks
Hudson Young scored a late try to seal a massive victory for the Raiders in the opening round
That allowed centre Matt Timoko to throw a perfect ball to Young, who crashed through Sharks defenders to find the line in the 76th minute.
After a rollercoaster contest that saw his side lead 18-6 and trail 19-18 before eventually triumphing 24-19, Stuart didn’t even deny it had been a tough one for the heart rate.
‘I certainly don’t enjoy those endings, but I enjoy the scoreboard at the end of it,’ he said.
‘The first half was weight of possession and field position … we did the right thing in regards to scoring the points.
The Raiders were 12 points in front and Stuart admitted that his heart rate went up at the end
‘That turned to the Sharks and they racked up some points, so it was a tough game.’
The late drama capped a brilliant game the Raiders controlled the first half of, before a resurgent Sharks outfit led by star recruit Nicho Hynes charged back into the context with two straight tries to start the second half.
Down 18-6, fullback Will Kennedy burnt off his foe for a try before a delicate Hynes ball let Teig Wilton crash over and level things up on 54 minutes.
Earlier it was Canberra on the front foot, the team carrying for 450 more metres in a first half that started with a magical Jack Wighton try, benefitting from an outstanding one-two with Nick Cotric.
Winger Semi Valemei also found the corner before the Sharks got on the board through Blayke Brailey, but Canberra had their 12-points advantage back on the stroke of halftime through the sharp hands of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, able to gather Tom Starling’s grubber and score.
The Canberra coach praised his side’s ‘grit’ as they weathered the storm to clinch victory
Wighton was superb in his 200th NRL game, but the Raiders can thank the star front-row duo of Josh Papali’i and Joe Tapine for the win, carrying for a combined 283m to lead their side forward.
‘They get us on the front foot, they showed that in the first 15 to 20 minutes,’ Canberra captain Elliot Whitehead said.
‘In the second half a bit of fatigue played into it, it’s only round one and we’re going to find our feet a little bit more in the next couple of rounds.
‘It’s an exciting start and hopefully we just keep pushing from there.’
Stuart also praised Jack Wighton after the Raiders star made his 200th NRL appearance
For Cronulla, Hynes looked every bit the star man the Sharks had been hoping for, assisting a try and pulling the strings through the comeback with fellow half Moylan, while he also slotted all three of his conversion attempts.
‘I was really pleased with how (Hynes and Moylan) ran, I thought our communication on the field was quite good … they were really good in the trial for us a couple of weeks ago, more games together will only improve the combination of our spine,’ Sharks captain Dale Finucane said.
‘Our intent to start that second half was really good, we did to them what they did to us to start the game. It’s just disappointing the way it finished.’
Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson left the field in the seventh minute holding the outside of his right knee and failed to return, the club hopeful it is a meniscus injury, not an ACL.