Canberra have delivered NRL ladder leaders Cronulla their first defeat in almost five months.
In a high-quality affair in front of 15,133 fans on Saturday night, the Raiders extended their winning streak to six with a 30-14 victory at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
However, the win could come at a cost for Canberra, with star five-eighth Blake Austin failing to finish the match after going off with a shoulder injury following his crucial second-half try.
It was Cronulla’s first defeat since round three after a remarkable run of 15 wins and a draw with Gold Coast last round.
It’s also the most points the Sharks have conceded this season, which endangers their grip on the minor premiership.
For the Raiders, the win lifts them back over Canterbury into third spot with just four regular-season games remaining.
With Sharks veteran Michael Ennis missing the clash due to a virus, rival hooker Josh Hodgson took charge in the middle of the field, laying on two first-half tries in a man-of-the-match effort.
Canberra fullback Jack Wighton pulled off two vital try-saving tackles in the second half.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was quick to play down the win, pointing out the scale of their next clash against Melbourne.
“They had a five-day turnaround and they had no Ennis. We’re not getting excited. We’re not getting carried away with it,” he said.
“Melbourne are the best team in the comp. We’re up against a really tough team next week. I reckon they’re the benchmark.”
A turning point came in the 59th minute when, as the Raiders led 22-8, Austin was ruled to have committed a double movement.
However, the bunker overturned the decision, saying the Sharks defenders had contributed to Austin’s momentum over the line.
“He was tackled and then he makes another movement towards the tryline … I don’t know any more. It’s a lottery,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
Croker’s conversion pushed the lead out to 28-14 before sealing the win with a penalty.
Hodgson earlier set up a 12-point lead at the break with one of the best individual halves this season.
After Jordan Rapana and James Maloney traded early tries, Hodgson broke the game open by laying on tries to Wighton in the 23rd and then Rapana in the following set.
A joint leader of the Dally M count when it went behind closed doors after round 16, Hodgson finished the game with two try assists, three tackle breaks, two line breaks, two line break assists and 124 running metres.
“He’s a fabulous player,” Stuart said.
“He got in behind their defence there a couple of times when they were rushing up out of marker and out of the line, got in behind them and created some real opportunities for us.”
Sharks captain Paul Gallen reduced the lead with a try from close range in the 55th minute, but Austin restored the advantage before the Raiders held on for the win.