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Raiders come back from the dead to keep their season alive

Canberra have come back from 22-8 down at half time to keep their season alive, defeating Newcastle 28-22 at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The Raiders were on life support the break after a Knights ambush, but managed to claw their way back into the game via tries from Seb Kris and Hudson Young, before winning it late through Jack Wighton.

Ricky Stuart’s men had to resurrect themselves to stay in the running for a finals spot: they remain in ninth, a win behind the Broncos, Bunnies and Roosters. For and against should keep the latter two safe, but Brisbane will be looking nervously over their shoulder.

It was far from vintage Raiders, but they got the job done with a solid second half performance. They dominated the ball – helped by poor Knights handling – and took their chances. They take the two points and move on.

Newcastle were playing only for pride, but after a horror month off the field and a series of terrible performances in front of their own fans, they clearly felt obliged to show up and have their crack.

Anthony Milford had one of his on days, running the show in the first half, and was ably assisted by Tex Hoy from fullback. Typically for the Knights’ rotten luck, neither will be at the club next year.

They lost Bradman Best and Enari Tuala earlier in the week, stood down for disciplinary reasons, then Daniel Saifiti to a positive Covid test and Tyson Frizell in the warm-up, to go with the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Kurt Mann and Jake Clifford to long-term injuries.

The Knights fielded two debutants: Krystian Mapapalangi and Oryn Keeley, called in at the last moment from the reserves.

Yet, despite their patched-up team and having nothing to play for, they turned in their best half of footy since defeating the Wests Tigers in round 2.

Milford made his first major intervention, interesting the line on the left edge and getting Edrick Lee into the corner. That was pegged back by Kris, who skinned Dane Gagai far too easily.

The Dolphins-bound halfback then turned up on the right side, creating room for Hoy to get Dom Young in for his first.

Gagai then got revenge on Kris, rinsing his opposing centre to put Young in again, before Jordan Rapana got on the end of a slick backline move to reduce the deficit.

The momentum hardly shifted, however. Milford lofted a kick that Lee rose highest to claim and Hoy split the Raiders down the middle with a pass for Mat Croker, who put Jayden Brailey in.

The 22-8 half time scoreline flattered Canberra: Milford had missed four of his five attempts with the boot and the gap could have been far wider.

With the season on the line, the Raiders had to fire up and hope for some help from their opponents. Much to Adam O’Brien’s anger, they got it.

Seb Kris was able to get over within moments of the restart, and Young crossed for his ninth of the year after chasing a kick that everyone else had given up on.

Gagai was then put on report for a dangerous tackle, which allowed Jamal Fogarty to level the scores. 22-8 had become 22 all in no time.

Newcastle did manage to steady themselves, but just when they seemed to have got some control, they were sucker-punched.

Josh Papali’i went straight down the middle, dumped on to Joseph Tapine and he, somewhat untidily, found Wighton to take the lead with seven minutes to play. Fogarty nailed the conversion from the touchline.

The Raiders then turned down the match-sealing field goal – Fogarty lined it up, but opted to go for the try – and invited disaster, just as they did a week ago against St George Illawarra.

Newcastle threw the kitchen sink, with Lee diving at the corner, but his putdown landed on the corner post under pressure from Rapana. Like last week, the Raiders managed to survive and keep their finals hopes alive – just.

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