John Bateman and Jarrod Croker have inspired a depleted and desperate Canberra to a 12-10 NRL win after holding off a Canterbury second-half fightback at ANZ Stadium.
Raiders skipper Croker was the hero on Saturday night for Ricky Stuart’s side as they held their nerve to break a three-game losing streak.
After the last-placed Bulldogs levelled at 10-10 with 15 minutes remaining, Croker stood up when it counted.
The centre stripped the ball off Reimis Smith as the Dogs attempted to work the ball off their line.
And when Adam Elliott attempted to steal the ball back the next set, he was penalised and Croker accepted a gift two points for what proved to be a winning lead in front of 7213 fans.
The Raiders were missing much of their salary cap with Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric on State of Origin duty and Jordan Rapana (knee), Joey Leilua (neck) and Josh Hodgson (thumb) out injured.
Back-rower John Bateman was inspirational for the Raiders in what was his first game back from a fractured eye socket.
After losing all three matches in his absence, he punched out an 80-minute effort and scored a crucial first-half try.
After Hudson Young put Siliva Havili through a hole in the middle of the field, Bateman toed the ball through twice and beat teammate Bailey Simonsson to the score by centimetres.
After undergoing surgery, Bateman was given a fortnight off to return home to England and only arrived back on Tuesday.
The Dogs were diabolical in the first half, committing seven errors as the visitors raced out to a 10-0 lead thanks to Sebastian Kris and Bateman.
While they were their own worst enemies in the first 40 minutes, Dean Pay’s side managed to get back on level pegging midway through the second half on the back of five-consecutive sets.
Jack Cogger sliced through and, five minutes later, the Bulldogs thrived on the left edge as Marcelo Montoya crossed after a slick backline movement.
But the Raiders found something extra in the closing stages to earn two valuable competition points.
Young has a nervous wait after being put on report for an alleged eye gouge on Aiden Tolman.
After being tackled by Young and Sia Soliola, Tolman stood up clutching at his eye and complained to officials.
“He rang me last week after the game, he was in England and said ‘I’ll be right to play’,” Stuart said of Bateman.
I just thought it was a comment from a player hurting for his mates who were going through a tough patch.
“We checked him out with a specialist Thursday. He was confident of being right – the specialist cleared him. He’s got a big influence over our players.”
Pay said his side showed plenty of heart but were failing to achieve 80-minute performances.
“When we put out good footy together, we can challenge teams,” Pay said.
“But there’s periods of the game where we just can’t do that enough.
“It come back to we’re a really young team We need to keep learning and keep developing.”