NRL: Canberra knock off Sharks to stake claim as genuine contenders

Jordan Rapana of the Raiders scores his first try during the round 22 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Canberra Raiders. Photo / Getty Images
Jordan Rapana of the Raiders scores his first try during the round 22 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Canberra Raiders. Photo / Getty Images

Canberra have staked their claim as genuine premiership contenders by becoming the first team to defeat NRL ladder leaders Cronulla in almost five months.

In a high-quality affair in front of 15,133 fans at Southern Cross Group Stadium, the Raiders extended their winning streak to six on Saturday night with a 30-14 victory.

However, the victory could come at a cost, with star five-eighth Blake Austin failing to finish the match after coming off with a shoulder injury following his crucial second-half try.

It was Cronulla's first defeat since round three against Manly - a remarkable run of 16 games - and the 30 points put on them was the most the Sharks had conceded this season.

The loss is a major blow to Cronulla's minor-premiership chances, while for the Raiders, the win lifts them back over Canterbury into third spot with just four regular-season games remaining.

With Sharks veteran Michael Ennis missing the game with a virus, rival hooker Josh Hodgson took over the middle of the field, laying on two first-half tries in a man-of-the-match effort.

Fullback Jack Wighton also pulled off two vital try-saving tackles in the second half.

The visitors led 22-8 in the 59th minute when Austin was ruled to have committed a double movement, however the bunker controversially overturned the decision, explaining that the Sharks' defenders had contributed to Austin's momentum over the line.

Croker's conversion pushed the lead out to 28-14 before sealing the win with a penalty.

Hodgson earlier set up a 12-point lead at the break, playing one of the best individual halves of football this season.

After Jordan Rapana and James Maloney traded early tries, Hodgson broke the game open by setting up tries to Wighton in the 23rd minute and then Rapana in the following set.

A joint leader of the Dally M count when it went behind closed doors after round 16, Hodgson finished the game with two try assists, three tackle breaks, two line breaks, two line break assists and 124 running metres.

Sharks captain Paul Gallen reduced the lead with a try from close range in the 55th minute, however Austin restored the advantage before the Raiders held on for the win.

- AAP

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