Wests Tigers 19 Canberra Raiders 18
This match was supposed to be the one where James Tedesco put to bed any demons of his decision to back out of his contract with Canberra and stay with the Wests Tigers.
But the fullback’s bad run of luck with injury continued, fracturing his left kneecap – the same knee in which he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in 2012 – in what could possibly be the end of his season. Tedesco was taken to hospital as his teammates held on for a 19-18 win in a contest that had it all at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night.
A 25-metre Braith Anasta field goal proved the difference – the Tigers' only second-half points – while Raiders centre Jarrod Croker had the chance to steal victory but missed a 38-metre penalty goal, reminiscent of his 2010 semi-final miss, with five minutes remaining. Croker was reminded of it by Tigers skipper Robbie Farah.
“I was trying to get in his ear and put him off,” Farah said. “It’s a match-winning kick. I thought it was a harsh penalty. I just walked up to him and reminded him of that semi-final.”
Tedesco lasted 10 seconds in first appearance against the Raiders since opting out of his rich, long-term deal to join the club next year. His knee collided with Canberra captain Terry Campese's after a trademark Pat Richards’ towering kick-off to start the match in front of 9243 people; it could sideline him for up to 12 weeks.
Tedesco’s woes overshadowed a willing contest that included an apparent eye gouge and several melees. Tigers skipper Farah indicated that Raiders prop David Shillington had made contact with his eyes and the on-field microphones could hear him label it as a “dog act”.
But after initially wanting to go on with the complaint, Farah withdrew his grievance when asked by the officials. Shillington’s hand appeared to go near Farah’s eye but it was unclear if the incident was intentional. Some heated words were exchanged between Farah and several Raiders players and Farah retorted – likely to Brett White – that the veteran prop “should have retired five years ago”.
“Shillo is a good guy,” Farah said. “I’ve roomed and been on tours with him. I felt something. He told me he didn’t mean it. I didn’t want to make an official complaint or get him suspended. It happened on the heat of the battle. He said he was trying to push me off and there was no intention in it. I believed him."
The Raiders – who took the different approach by spending Friday night in Wollongong before the game – were down by six points at half-time in an opening half dominated by the Tigers, who completed 15 of their 16 sets.
The Tigers were left to a 14-man rotation when Tedesco was joined by Tim Simona (concussion) and Sauaso Sue (shoulder) on the sidelines. Tigers coach Mick Potter heaped praise on his men.
“They nearly want to die for one another,” Potter said. “The character that was shown, I don’t think I’ve seen better given the adversity we copped. From five seconds into the game when we lost our player."
A likely broken thumb is expected to end ack Wighton’s hopes of a NSW appearance after the centre failed to return for the Raiders in the second half.
Wingers David Nofoaluma and Brenko Lee scored first-half doubles; Nofoaluma’s first came after a clever last-tackle kick from halfback Luke Brooks, who took the line on before kicking over a compressed Raiders defence.
Lee would benefit from Josh Papalii’s first touch in his return from an ankle injury when the Queensland back-rower ran over the top of Brooks before passing to Lee, who raced away to draw the scores level after 21 minutes. The Tigers snatched the lead back three minutes later when Nofoaluma scored before a shortside raid by Anthony Milford handed the Raiders the lead again.
Some fancy footwork by Milford, who beat Pat Richards three times, sliced through the line. His pass found Lee who chipped over the head of makeshift fullback Blake Austin to regather and score to give Canberra a two-point lead.
A Richards penalty goal followed by a try gave the home side a six point half-time lead.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was disappointed.
“We should put them away in the second half,” Stuart said. “We weren’t good enough. You can’t dodge around the truth. We should have won.”
Tempers eased in the second half, and so did both team’s handling. Canberra’s Jarrod Croker scored the only second-half try.