‘Red-hot chance’: Real-deal Raiders prove title credentials
Two's company, three's a crowd. What about five?
There were only three clubs that could win this year's NRL premiership before the weekend. Manly suddenly made that four on Saturday, Canberra made it five on Sunday.
The NRL premiership is alive and wide open after Canberra humbled Penrith 30-18 at Panthers Stadium.
Sydney Roosters, Souths and Melbourne were the three teams many thought could win the premiership going into round 19. Add Manly and Canberra now.
Canberra was emphatic in a six-tries-to-three win over Penrith. The Raiders will frighten a few sides.
"Coming here today I thought there were three teams in it - Storm, the Roosters and Rabbitohs," Immortal Andrew Johns told Channel 9.
"I didn't think the Raiders were a genuine chance, but looking at them today they are a well-balanced side.
"They've got Joseph Leilua and Nick Cotric to come back. They are a red-hot chance."
Everyone knows Canberra can score points. But their defence was meritorious again. And defence wins big games.
The Raiders are the real deal, don't worry about that. They have a lovely mixture of guile, size, speed, agility and power.
Victory pushes Canberra to 26 competition points, one significant step closer to a top-four finish. The Raiders have won five from their past six games.
Canberra has the second-longest premiership drought in the NRL - 25 years. This side has given fans every reason to think that can end in 2019, despite having to endure a tough run home.
The Raiders had just 11 per cent of possession inside the opening 12 minutes of play. Once given some possession over the next 10 minutes, Canberra scored twice.
Canberra was inspired by English import John Bateman, who scored a powerful late try to seal the win.
"There's not a lot he can't do," said former NSW centre Ryan Girdler.
Canberra won without injured forward Ryan Sutton and suspended centre Nick Cotric.
This was Penrith's first defeat in two months. Their seven-match winning streak is officially over.
Penrith sit on 20 competition points and remain inside the top eight but their top four aspirations are now just about dashed. The Panthers now know where they need to improve when playing top level teams.
Their small men - James Maloney, Wayde Egan, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai and - did cause some trouble at times for Canberra's big men.
The Panthers won't be too despondent. They did some nice things but this was a reality check.
BYE BYE DEAN
Penrith centre Dean Whare was sin-binned 22 minutes into the match for a professional foul on Canberra's Jarrod Croker, who was chasing a Josh Hodgson grubber.
Within 20 seconds of Whare being marched, Raiders second-rower Elliott Whitehead crashed over for his side's second try and a 12-4 lead.
An all-in push-and-shove melee just before half-time spiced up a game which saw frustrated Panthers skipper James Tamou get right in the face of referee Ashley Klein as they left the field for the interval.
Panthers star James Maloney also remonstrated with Klein before the referee comically told Maloney he was "setting a bad example".
He scored a try and set up another - Canberra halfback Aidan Sezer is determined to go out a winner.
Sezer still has a year to run on his current deal but is expected to leave after this season to sign with an English Super League club.
It will give Canberra the money to re-sign Jordan Rapana and welcome a new halfback, Wigan's George Williams.
Sezer was among the best players on the field. He is often maligned but got the job done yet again on Sunday.
CANBERRA 30 (J Bateman C Nicoll-Klokstad J Papalii J Rapana A Sezer E Whitehead tries J Croker 3 goals) bt PENRITH 18 (M Leota J Tamou B To'o tries N Cleary 3 goals) at Panthers Stadium. Referee: David Munro, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 15,560