The Rabbitohs had more then enough chances in the second half but discipline, ball security and some street-smart football from the Raiders ensured they dropped back-to-back games after victory over the Wests Tigers a fortnight ago.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart knew it wasn’t perfect but loved the courage his team displayed and paid tribute to unheralded players like Dunamis Lui, who was one of Canberra’s best and came up with a key steal near the death.
“We always used the word ‘proud’. It’s easy to say after you win. But proud of the heart they showed tonight. Both teams are down on troops, we only had 20 available, that’s the character of the club, being able to hang in the way we did,” Stuart said.
“It was a scrappy game, the weather was tough, fortunately we were on the right side of the scoreboard. We probably weren’t at our best tonight but given the circumstances of injuries, the cohesion and change of positions, I’ll take those two points every day of the week.”
The Raiders were slick out of the blocks and raced to an early 10-0 lead courtesy of tries to Nick Cotric (6th) and Jarrod Croker (13th). It was another slow start for Souths, who took 65 minutes to come to life when they lost a thriller to the Knights last week.
Souths needed a significant reshuffle when Johnston, wearing the No.1 in place of the suspended Latrell Mitchell, was sent for medical attention. He failed his HIA and didn’t rejoin the contest, with Corey Allan dropping back from his wing to fill the void.
That saw the debut of Jack Johns, the son of Newcastle great Matthew Johns, who joined the back row as part of a series of positional shifts, while Bayley Sironen shifted from the edge to the centres.
Something seemed to work for Souths, who got on the board through the in-form Dane Gagai in the 21st minute. Adam Reynolds scampered over soon after, converting his own try for a 12-10 half-time lead and taking his tally of career points past 1500.
Canberra almost had some joy before the break when Lui, who had been dishing out some fearsome defence, produced a magical pass to send Elliott Whitehead over the line. Their jubilation was short-lived as it was red-lighted for an obstruction.
Croker added a penalty to level the scores at the start of the second half before Nicoll-Klokstad left the field with his finger at right angles, having pierced the skin.
But the Green Machine rolled on. Rookie winger Semi Valemei had a fortunate ricochet bounce straight into his arms. He didn’t know much about Whitehead’s kick until it landed right on his chest and thumped the ball down in the corner to give the Raiders an 18-12 lead.
Thomas Burgess went close for the Rabbitohs as he reached out in desperation next to the posts, with the ball planted just short of the line. He caused big problems for the Raiders’ middle defenders but Canberra held firm as the rain started to tumble.
Souths had chances but seemed determine to hammer away through the middle near the Raiders line. The result was a wall that refused to yield and a series of mistakes that frustrated the Rabbitohs time and again.
And when Campbell Graham lost the ball on tackle one near his line, it was goodnight for Souths, who continue to get close but not close enough as their top eight hopes start to dangle by a thread.