Canberra held all the aces most of the contest as it put together a commanding 38-12 win over the Vodafone Warriors in the first-ever NRL match at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday night.
While the Vodafone Warriors were first to score after halftime the Raiders quickly responded with a try of their own and then cleared away with two more to take the game out of reach.
It left the Vodafone Warriors with a 4-7 record heading into their first bye, the performance a huge disappointment coming on the back of the defeat to Penrith.
This was a game destined to be played out on a slippery surface following at-times heavy rain over the preceding 24 hours, the weather also impacting on late ticket sales.
Mercifully the rain held off in the two hours leading up to kick-off.
The Vodafone Warriors went into the encounter as named while Canberra coach Ricky Stuart made one tactical change, opting to start with Kurt Baptiste at hooker with the impressive Josh Hodgson going to the bench.
The home side was desperate to rebound from its disappointing second half performance against Penrith as it battled to protect an 18-14 lead only to fall to an 18-30 loss.
The Raiders were in a similar predicament having lost their last two starts 12-16 to the Dragons and 18-19 to the Panthers.
The start was to order for the Vodafone Warriors with a Raiders error in the opening set giving them possession on halfway. They built the set well, forcing Canberra to ruck it out from its goal-line but the good work was undone as they yielded a penalty straightaway and then another in front of their posts.
The Vodafone Warriors turned the Raiders away forcing an error but then made one themselves. Another defensive set and another one marked by aggressive intent saw Matt Allwood and Jonathan Wright jamming in to put heat on the threatening Joseph Leilua. The movement broke down under pressure with Leilua flinging the ball into touch.
At the same time the Vodafone Warriors were forced to make an unwanted early interchange, Jacob Lillyman off with a head wound replaced by James Gavet.
This time the Vodafone Warriors rolled out of their end well, picked up a penalty and finished the set with Shaun Johnson forcing a goal-line drop out as the rain returned.
Just as they were building pressure, another dropped ball hurt them enabling Canberra to battle out of trouble.
Another penalty put the Vodafone Warriors back on attack but Johnson’s last tackle kick was over-cooked, giving the Raiders a seven-tackle set followed by a penalty.
The Vodafone Warriors needed more defensive steel but couldn’t scramble this time, standoff Blake Austin jinking and spinning his way over the line for the opening try in the 18th minute. With Jarrod Croker’s conversion the visitors had a 6-0 edge.
In the 22nd minute the Vodafone Warriors worked to their right, Johnson pushed through a deft grubber and Bodene Thompson needed only to gather the ball and the try was his. Instead he knocked on, the Raiders went downfield, earned a penalty and Croker extended his side’s lead to 8-0.
Another penalty for a lifting tackle had the Vodafone Warriors under more stress. Austin threatened and from the play the ball Leilua grubbered, the kick ricocheted and he regathered for his team’s second try. With Croker’s conversion the Raiders had a healthy 14-0 lead after 27 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors needed to be the next to score. An opportunity came when Adam Sezer kicked out on the full 40 metres from his line.
They applied some heat, Johnson’s last tackle grubber brushing an upright to create another goal-line drop out. Back they came only for Johnson’s kick to deflect into Canberra hands.
The Raiders averted the danger then but promptly turned the ball over to give the Vodafone Warriors another attacking set. It broke down with an error in front of the posts and turned into profit for Canberra.
From the get-out set the Raiders went downfield and earned an attacking scrum followed by a penalty. The Vodafone Warriors couldn't answer it, Canberra heading left and Croker getting on the outside to score. With his conversion and then another penalty he had his side in control leading 22-0 at halftime.
The Raiders had dominated possession, having 21 sets in possession to just 16 for the Vodafone Warriors, and the penalty count was 7-3 in their favour.
There was promise for the Vodafone Warriors as the second half began. Interchange prop Sam Lisone barged over from a flat Luke pass but was held up.
The Vodafone Warriors came back, Canberra knocked on defusing a last tackle kick and from the attacking scrum came joy at last.
Lisone was the catalyst. He made a searching carry, the Vodafone Warriors went to the right edge, Thompson kept the ball alive, Blake Ayshford popped it up to Johnson in support and the halfback was over wide out. His conversion was magnificent to have his side 6-22 down six minutes into the second half.
The good work was undone soon after. From a defensive scrum, David Fusitu'a lost possession on the first tackle, opening the way for Josh Papalii to power over on the short side. Croker missed for the first time in the game but Canberra had a 20-point lead.
Tries followed for Josh Hodgson and Edrick Lee to have the Raiders in complete control.
There was only a little consolation in the final minutes when Ayshford scored after Thompson kept the ball alive.
Match details | Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Vodafone Warriors 12 (Shaun Johnson, Blake Ayshford tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).
Canberra Raiders 38 (Blake Austin, Joseph Leilua, Jarrod Croker, Josh Papalii, Josh Hodgson, Edrick Lee tries; Jarrod Croker 5 conversions, 2 penalties).
Halftime: 22-0 Raiders.
Referees: Grant Atkins and Matt Noyen.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Matt Allwood, Jonathan Wright; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman (c); Simon Mannering. Interchange: Jazz Tevaga, Sam Lisone, John Palavi, James Gavet.