Canberra’s NRL season of woe might have finally found its silver lining after young guns Jack Wighton and Mitchell Cornish spearheaded a 27-12 victory over the Wests Tigers in Canberra on Saturday.
Star five-eighth Anthony Milford might be off to Brisbane next season, but Cornish’s first 80 minute performance for the Green Machine will give fans hope for 2015.
He was involved in the opening two tries, while Wighton also starred in his second NRL game at fullback, looking dangerous every time he touched the ball and scoring the Raiders’ second try.
While neither side entered the match with hopes of making the finals, both were desperate to jag a win to mitigate their respective seasons of misery in front of a crowd of 8,287 at GIO Stadium.
The result gave the Raiders their first back-to-back wins since round 20 last year, while it also delivered the Tigers their sixth straight loss.
The Raiders also ensured that Cronulla will finish the 2014 NRL season with the wooden spoon.
The Tigers had failed to score a point in the first half in 10 of their last 15 outings, and this week was no better – not scoring until Blake Austin crossed in the 57th minute.
Their handling was terrible in the opening 20 minutes, making five errors for a completion rate of just 43 per cent.
The Raiders on the otherhand completed their first 17 sets until throwing an intercept on the stroke of halftime, and the urgency in their defence was several notches up from previous weeks.
Despite their early dominance the Raiders could only muster up two first half tries.
Cornish kicked off his NRL starting debut in style, finding a leaping Edrick Lee with a pinpoint cross field kick, who tapped it back for Bill Tupou to score in the third minute.
He then combined with Wighton in the 34th minute to give the Raiders a 12-0 lead going into the break.
The Tigers fought back hard to narrow the gap to 14-12 through tries to Austin and Martin Taupau – and Pat Richards’ spiralling kick-offs were giving the Raiders all-sorts of grief.
However the home side regrouped and hit back, Milford putting over man-of-the-match Josh Papalii in the 67th minute.
Austin almost capped off another brilliant individual performance to give his side a sniff in the final minutes, but lost the ball whilst in the process of scoring.
A Milford drop goal, and then try, in the final two minutes sealed the win for the Raiders.