Raiders belt disappointing Rabbitohs

The Raiders’ season appears back on track. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It’s been a weekend of upheaval in the nation’s capital and the makeovers extended onto the footy field on Sunday afternoon, when the Canberra Raiders officially completed their transformation from NRL battlers to challengers.

With their 32-12 defeat of a disappointing South Sydney outfit in Dubbo, the Canberrans ambushed their second top-eight side in as many weeks and locked in their first three-game winning streak of the year. They’re now only out of the top eight on points differential.

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Jack Wighton put forward his case for Origin selection on his return from suspension, while milestone man Josh Papalii scored a try in his 250th game to give Anthony Albanese some competition for the mantle of Canberra’s top dog.

For the Rabbitohs, Sunday’s loss was the kind that could prove the difference between playing finals footy and watching it from the TV come September.

Souths still have matches with the Panthers, Storm, Cowboys, Roosters, Sharks and Eels (twice) awaiting them so simply can’t afford to be losing to bottom eight sides — especially not as emphatically as they did on Sunday.

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Souths drew criticism for their Jekyll and Hyde performance last week but Dr. Jekyll must have missed the bus to Dubbo; the Rabbitohs’ performance wasn’t competitive at any stage on Sunday.

The Rabbitohs never seriously threatened to take the lead on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
The Rabbitohs never seriously threatened to take the lead on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Souths lacked fluency through the middle and were too easily foiled on the edges by the defensive arms of the Green Machine.

Heading into Sunday’s game, the Raiders had scored the third-least points of any team this season but had little trouble scything through soft Rabbitoh defence.

The Raiders led 20-0 at halftime and while the Bunnies managed to stem the bleeding in the second stanza, they never looked a serious chance to chase Canberra down.

The end score could have been even more brutal had the Raiders not missed three of their attempts at goal.

Cameron Murray’s return from injury can’t come soon enough for the Rabbitohs.

Playing for the first time this month, Wighton wasted little time sticking his hand up for either of the vacant centre spots in the NSW side.

He floated a pass to an unmarked Nick Cotric less than five minutes in and the winger opened the Raiders’ account in the corner.

In the second half, Wighton belted away on a line break that eventually gave the Raiders the field position they needed to ice the game with a penalty goal.

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Wighton’s versatility, his ability to play on both edges and his nine games of Origin experience will all work in his favour as he continues to push for selection in the NSW side.

Papalii reached over for the Raiders’ second try. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Papalii reached over for the Raiders’ second try. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Papa party

In his 250th NRL match, Josh Papalii stretched over for the kind of try that few are better qualified to score.

From a standing start, Big Papa spun his way towards the line, shrugging Rabbitohs off with alarming ease and extending the Raiders’ lead to eight points.

His teammates’ jubilant celebrations were testament to Papalii’s status as one of the most beloved figures in Canberra.

Papalii proved just as influential off the ball — minutes after his try, he and Elliott Whitehead laid a textbook tackle on Liam Knight and prevented a certain try in the process.

As of Sunday afternoon, only two men have ever played more games for the Raiders than Papalii.

If he stays fit and takes up a contract option to stay with the club through 2025, the big man could overtake Jason Croker to become the most-capped player in club history.

The Raiders swarmed Papalii after he scored (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
The Raiders swarmed Papalii after he scored (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Dunno about Dubbo

The NRL has gotten better and better at taking games to regional Australia in recent years. By the end of the 2022 season, regular season games will have been played at 27 different grounds, up from 23 in 2012 and 18 in 2002.

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But the Rabbitohs may want to consider whether Dubbo is the right place to take home games going forward.

The Panthers belted them 56-12 on their first visit last season and this time around, they conceded more first half points than in any other game this year.

And in terms of using regional games as a way to spruik the team to local prospects and develop a stronghold on the area, they’d probably do well to look outside the Central West, given the Panthers’ longstanding presence there.

It might mean missing out on a trip to the zoo but a change of scenery could be something for the Rabbitohs to consider after two wallopings in the west.

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