Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has declared his team the comeback kings of the NRL after they produced a stunning comeback against Parramatta to secure a second chance in this year’s finals series.
In front of a season-high crowd of 18,825 at GIO Stadium on Sunday, skipper Jarrod Croker rewrote the Canberra record books on his way to setting up three of Brenko Lee’s four tries in the Raiders’ 28-18 victory.
The league’s leading point-scorer also added a try of his own and kicked two goals to take him past Clinton Schifcofske’s 2001 club record of 245 points in a season.
The win keeps Canberra in third spot and five points ahead of fifth-placed North Queensland with two games remaining in the regular season.
Not since the Raiders finished fourth in 2003 has the club finished so high on the ladder.
However, their eighth win in a row was soured by a possible rib injury to prop Junior Paulo who went off early in the second half and didn’t return.
A stunned Canberra were down 16-0 after just 19 minutes and looked a shadow of the team that toppled ladder leaders Cronulla and Melbourne in the past fortnight.
But the home side first stemmed the momentum with Lee’s first try in the 23rd minute before they crossed five more times while shutting out the Eels in the second half.
“A lot of teams wouldn’t have got out of that today,” Stuart said.
“They had a lot of ball early on us and the character that we showed in that second half was unbelievable, the way Jarrod’s got his team so tightly bonded.
“It’s a credit to what he’s done as a leader of that group because they’re a real tight-knit bunch who play for each other.”
It was Parramatta against the clock early, with tries to Michael Jennings, Semi Radradra and Bevan French silencing the Raiders faithful.
But the halftime break did wonders for the home side, in particular for Croker, who surpassed Schifcofske with a try and goal and then supplied Lee’s second and third tries in a 13-minute spurt.
A fourth to Lee in the 65th minute gave his team the lead before Iosia Soliola sealed their 15th win of the season with 10 minutes remaining.
Eels coach Brad Arthur, who lost Beau Scott (ankle) and Tepai Moeroa (concussion) pre-game, said his team were simply not getting rewards despite putting in valiant efforts week to week.
“We need to get a bit more for our effort but there was too many points scored against us in the second half. We just lacked a little bit of class there at times. We’re trying really hard.”