Canberra are inside the NRL’s top eight for the first time in 2023 after seeing off Parramatta 26-18 in an NRL contest that has left two State of Origin candidates sweating the judiciary’s charge sheet.
In freezing conditions, the Raiders made it five straight wins in their best showing of the season, three tries in each half helping them hold off the Eels.
It leaves them 6-4 for the season and only two competition points from top spot, continuing a brilliant run to respond to a tough 1-4 start to the year.
The victory was their biggest margin of the season so far, snapping a streak of five wins by six points or less.
Tempers flared throughout at GIO Stadium, Canberra enforcer Corey Horsburgh sin-binned for a punch despite Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson receiving a penalty for starting the scuffle with a late tackle.
Horsburgh, a Queensland Origin hopeful, didn’t make heavy contact with Matterson’s jaw but could still find himself in hot water for throwing the strike.
Parramatta and NSW powerhouse Junior Paulo also flirted with a 10-minute spell, reported for a cannonball tackle that left star Raider prop Joe Tapine needing medical attention for a hyperextended knee.
But Paulo’s lack of intent to tackle Tapine’s knees might save him from a suspension.
The Eels were lucky to avoid their own first-half sin-binning, Bailey Simonsson allowed to stay on the field despite being reported and penalised for a hip-drop tackle on Jordan Rapana.
And they capitalised on Horsburgh’s absence for the game’s first try on 33 minutes, J’maine Hopgood grounding an impressive kick from Matterson.
Canberra answered in the shadows of halftime, a Jack Wighton pass finding winger Albert Hopoate in the corner to level the score before they took the lead straight after the break via NSW Origin hopeful Hudson Young.
A perfect kick from halfback Jamal Fogarty let Sebastian Kris through to put the Raiders 12 points clear, and they responded to back-to-back Parramatta tries through Matt Timoko, who sealed the deal on 76 minutes.
Tapine returned from injury to complete a 174m, four-tackle bust game, while Horsburgh pushed his Origin case with 127m and 30 tackles without a miss.
Without halfback Mitchell Moses, who is in concussion protocols, Jake Arthur steered the Parramatta ship nicely although the Raiders did well to curb the influence of key playmaker Dylan Brown.
Back-rower Shaun Lane limped off in the first half with a hamstring injury and didn’t return.