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Dragons fall to Raiders in nail-biter

By Martin Gabor, National Correspondent‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

The St George Illawarra Dragons suffered a 18-14 loss to the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium, Bruce on Friday night.

A monstrous 40/20 by Aidan Sezer in golden point has powered the Raiders to a thrilling 18-14 win over the Dragons in extra-time with Elliott Whitehead's 84th-minute try enough to keep the Green Machine's season alive.


‌With his side pinned deep in their own end, the halfback launched a raking kick downfield that caught the back three off guard. From the ensuing set, big Dave Taylor popped a sumptuous offload to Whitehead who dived over to earn Canberra their first win in golden point from four attempts in 2017.

The Raiders had tried their best to lose with their playmakers putting in some woeful kicks throughout the 80 minutes, but when it mattered most, Sezer delivered the most important kick of the season to move his side within four points of the Dragons.

The Red V had looked the better side for most of the night with former Raider Paul Vaughan starring in his first match back from a calf injury with 208 metres at lock while hooker Cameron McInnes made a whopping 72 tackles.

It's not all good news for Canberra with representative forward Josh Papalii in hot water after he collected Josh Dugan high with an ugly shoulder charge that could see him spend the next few weeks on the sideline.

It would prove to be a telling moment in the match as Papalii stayed on the field while his State of Origin adversary was forced off for an HIA test and did not return.

The Dragons came with plenty of intent and dominated the early exchanges with 70 per cent of the ball but it was the Raiders who would strike first as exciting rookie Nick Cotric took advantage of a poor read in defence to cross after six minutes.

The visitors were clearly unperturbed by the early setback as Nene Macdonald split Canberra's big men from dummy-half and linked up with Gareth Widdop who strolled over to level the scores.

Joel Thompson went within a whisker of burning his former club when he raced through to ground a deflected grubber, but replays clearly showed the ball had slipped through his fingers before he had grounded it.   

The Raiders wouldn't be so lucky moments later when Widdop floated a pass over the top to send Jason Nightingale over for his 102nd try in the NRL to give the Red V a 10-6 lead after 22 minutes.

A sustained period of pressure should have seen the Raiders draw level but skipper Jarrod Croker inexplicably lost control of a Josh Hodgson grubber that he would normally gobble up for breakfast.  

A Widdop penalty goal to start the second half pushed the lead out to a converted try and it could have been worse for the Green Machine when Taane Milne popped a delayed offload to Dugan who coughed up the pill when he looked certain to score.

Despite losing their fullback and Kurt Mann to HIA tests, momentum was well and truly with the Red V until Sezer intercepted a pass from Widdop and ran 90 metres to level the scores against the run of play.

The deadlock didn't last long as Croker knocked over a tricky penalty goal to give Canberra a two-point cushion but Widdop quickly responded to make it 14-all with nine minutes left to play.

Canberra had first crack in the field goal shootout but came up empty-handed when Blake Austin narrowly missed a long-range effort and then Sezer had his attempt charged down.

Widdop had a chance at the other end but sprayed his left-footed attempt before the sides traded brain snaps as Hodgson chipped ahead for no one and Mann spilled the ball to surrender much-needed field position.

Austin had a glorious opportunity to ice the game but hooked his 30-metre effort just as the rain started to tumble down only for Widdop to follow suit in the final minute of regular time.

With both sides unable to pot a one-pointer, it was only fitting that the game would be decider by a golden try.

Canberra Raiders 18 (Nick Cotric, Aidan Sezer, Elliott Whitehead tries; Jarrod Croker 3 goals) def. St George Illawarra Dragons 14 (Gareth Widdop, Jason Nightingale tries; Gareth Widdop 3 goals) in golden point at GIO Stadium. Half-time: 10-6 Dragons.

This article first appeared on NRL.com