Canberra Raiders have lifted to celebrate champion Josh Papali’i’s 250th NRL game by battling through a flu outbreak to roll South Sydney Rabbitohs for a third straight win.
Five of the Raiders’ starting 17 were among those training away from the main group this week with the flu, while Ryan Sutton and Matt Frawley were late outs battling the illness.
But it didn’t stop them playing champagne rugby league in Dubbo on Sunday as they scored four first-half tries in racing to a 20-0 lead before hanging on to win 32-12 after the Rabbitohs lifted late.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said the performance defied an interrupted week that easily could have turned out badly.
“They don’t want to hear too much about it because they don’t like getting rapped like that but they deserve it,” Stuart told reporters.
“That win after the week we’ve had with the flu and injuries and players that had to pull out … it was a really, really good performance under the conditions and the pressure we had on us this week.”
Gun prop Papali’i marked his milestone with an early try, 116 run metres and eight tackle breaks, with his buddies in the forward pack dominant as they took control in the middle of the field.
Second-rower Hudson Young was similarly outstanding, scoring a try and having a hand in an electrifying team move in the shadows of half-time for a Seb Kris try that extended the margin to 20-0.
The Rabbitohs wouldn’t get on the board until hooker Damian Cook broke three tackles to score for 24-6, but Canberra withstood the surge and sealed it through a flashy try for star youngster Xavier Savage.
Only points differential traps Canberra (5-6) outside the eight, and Stuart said getting the basics right was helping his side improve dramatically from their 2-6 start.
“I come into these press conferences and I know everybody wants a scientific answer or a strategic answer to what’s going on – when you’re not getting 50 per cent of the ball and you’re not completing at more that 50-odd percent, you’re not going to beat anyone,” he said.
It was a lamentable display from Souths, completing just 61 per cent of their first-half sets and allowing a staggering 30 tackle breaks in that period too.
They ended the round eighth on the table but teams are queuing up to remove them from the finals spots, with Manly, St George Illawarra and Canberra all also on five wins.
“Bit of adversity at the start of the game and individually we were trying to solve it, and we put a lot of pressure on our defence,” Souths coach Jason Demetriou said.
“Canberra completed higher and did what they had to do, they were running harder and tackling harder.
“I just felt like we still gave them opportunities through poor offloads that put more pressure on our defence… when we got opportunities, we overplayed, chasing the scoreboard which has been something we’ve done too often instead of having more patience.”
Souths lost Tevita Tatola and Taane Milne to first-half HIAs, while Canberra fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad left the contest at halftime with a hamstring.