The Dragons had hung tough against a depleted Roosters team and won their two matches prior. The Raiders lost a thriller against the Eels last Saturday but prior to that were very average against a depleted Manly and even worse against Newcastle two weeks earlier.
The consistent, defensive-minded Raiders that tackled their way to last year’s grand final hadn’t yet emerged this season.
Anyone who bought that narrative would have felt mighty silly early on. From the opening sets, it appeared as though they were never going to lose this clash. The home side led 18-0 at the break and arguably should have been further in front.
Nick Cotric started the night by showing exactly why he has attracted offers north of $500,000 – eye-watering numbers for a centre or winger – to take his talents elsewhere at the end of this season.
He steamed straight over the top of of Matt Dufty and forced the ball down to draw first blood inside five minutes.
After that, it turned into the Williams show.
Williams has one of the best short-kicking games in the NRL and, in the 15th minute, he put the ball in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, leaving Mikaele Ravalawa back-pedalling.
Bailey Simmonson soared over the top of the Fijian flyer, claimed the ball and rolled over to ground it.
The hosts then blew a handful of half-chances to extend the lead but just as the Dragons looked as though they may escape into the sheds trailing just 12-0, Williams stepped off his left foot and sailed straight past Korbin Sims to put Canberra in front by three scores at the break.
The Dragons did not look like scoring in the first half. But that all changed in the second. The pundits tipping the Dragons would have been filled with hope after a dominant first 15 minutes.
They may not have scored but when Jarrod Croker won the race to a Jack Wighton grubber to take the lead to 22-0, Canberra clocked off.
The Dragons that started the season would have rolled over. But the Dragons of the last month are different to the side that underperformed so badly that Paul McGregor barely survived the axe.
When the Raiders took their foot off the gas the Dragons capitalised through a Dufty double and a well-deserved Zac Lomax try.
Dufty’s second – with just 70 seconds to play – gave the Dragons the faintest of hopes of taking the match to golden point.
But a Corey Norman bomb couldn’t be claimed by two-metre tower Jason Saab and Stuart snuck away with his milestone win.
If the Raiders clock off like they did on Friday against the Storm next Saturday, Melbourne will be making amends for their losses to the Green Machine in both last year’s preliminary final and in round three.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.