NRL: Raiders beat Panthers to stay alive

Josh Hodgson of the Raiders is tackled during the second NRL Semi Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Getty Images
Josh Hodgson of the Raiders is tackled during the second NRL Semi Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Getty Images

Canberra's mountain men have kept their hopes of ending their 22-year premiership drought alive after surviving a second half scare to beat Penrith 22-12.

The Raiders are now one game away from a grand final appearance, booking themselves a trip to Melbourne to play the minor premiers on Saturday after eliminating Penrith.

"Playing against the best team in the competition next week. It's going to be a very, very difficult task," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.

"I was disappointed with 15-20 minutes of our football in the second half. We were playing as if we were 40 up. If we play like that against Melbourne they will touch us up. They take huge advantage of teams making poor fundamental mistakes."

But the win was soured with backrower Elliott Whitehead placed on report for a high tackle on Isaah Yeo.

Canberra's big men dominated the Panthers, helping Canberra race to an 18-0 lead early in the second half.

A Matt Moylan-­inspired Penrith comeback was not enough to snatch back the lead, despite the Panthers scoring two tries in eight minutes.

Josh Hodgson and Blake Austin were important inclusions to the Raiders squad. Hodgson had limped from the field just seven days earlier with an ankle injury, which looked certain to not only rub him out of Saturday night's game but also this season. He showed no ill-­effects of the injury, playing 71 minutes and finishing with 30 tackles. A head knock prevented him from playing the full game.

Austin struggled at times with his injured hand. And to make matters worse he limped through parts of the first half with a leg injury.

But before that, he made an immediate impact scoring the Raiders' first try after 11 minutes.

Canberra had received another set with a contentious call about the advantage not being played. Taking advantage of slipping Penrith defenders Isaah Yeo and Suaia Matagi, Austin scored after stepping off his right foot.

The Raiders five-eighth went straight to the sideline to have further padding added to an ­already heavily strapped hand after this try.

Poor last-play options helped ease the pressure on the Panthers. The home side extended their lead to 12 when Jordan ­Rapana crossed for a club record-equalling 22nd try.

Rapana again combined with Joey Leilua who put in a grubber kick for his winger to score.

The first half was almost a replica of their last-start loss to Cronulla, but the Raiders managed to keep hold of their 12-point lead.

Canberra could have had three first-half tries but skipper Jarrod Croker was correctly denied a try after attempting a one-on-one strip on Bryce Cartwright despite two men being in the tackle, before racing away under the posts.

The Panthers could not have started the second half more poorly. Sitaleki Akauola was penalised and placed on report in the first tackle after the break for a high shot on Rapana.

The Raiders forced a line drop-out from the penalty before Paul Vaughan easily brushed aside Trent Merrin to have Penrith on the back foot.

"Unfortunately we beat ourselves tonight, 18 was always going to be hard to run down," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.

"We were up against it then. The players are hurting. Unfortunately we put ourselves in that position."

Canberra 22 (B Austin, J Croker, J Rapana tries, J Croker 5 goals) bt Penrith 12 (T Peachey, D Watene-Zelezniak tries, N Cleary 2 goals) at GIO Stadium.


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