Young guns Mitch Cornish and Jack Wighton have given long suffering Canberra fans renewed hope for 2015 after sparking a 27-12 NRL victory over Wests Tigers on Saturday.
While there are still fears that star five-eighth Anthony Milford’s departure to Brisbane next season will send the battling club back into freefall, Cornish’s first 80 minute performance for the Green Machine proves there will still be young talent for coach Ricky Stuart to tap into.
Cornish played a huge part in the opening two tries, while Wighton also starred in his second NRL game at fullback, looking dangerous every time he touched the ball and scoring the Raiders’ second try.
“(Cornish) was very good for his first start in first grade,” Stuart said.
“He’s been patient and he’s a young guy who’s going to develop.
“I was happy for him. He hadn’t been ready to start yet, it was a process.”
Cornish, 21, said he couldn’t have hoped for a better NRL starting debut.
“It was pretty awesome to get the win,” he said.
“It boosts your confidence when those little set plays come off.”
The result in front of a crowd of 8,287 at GIO Stadium gave the Raiders their first back-to-back wins since round 20 last year, while also delivering the Tigers their sixth straight loss.
“We’re down on confidence and down on belief. You can probably see that,” said Tigers skipper Robbie Farah.
“I can’t contemplate going into an off-season having lost seven-in-a-row.”
The result also all but mathematically ensures Cronulla will finish the 2014 NRL season with the wooden spoon.
The Tigers’ handling was terrible in the opening 20 minutes, making five errors for a completion rate of just 43 per cent.
“You can’t expect to be on the right side of the scoreboard if you make so many errors. It’s just suicide. That’s not NRL,” Tigers coach Mick Potter said.
“We’re making it too hard for ourselves. The boys are just burning themselves into the ground.”
The Raiders on the otherhand completed their first 17 sets until throwing an intercept on the stroke of halftime, and the urgency in their defence was several notches up from previous weeks.
Cornish kicked off his NRL starting debut in style, finding a leaping Edrick Lee with a pinpoint cross field kick, who tapped it back for Bill Tupou to score in the third minute.
He then combined with Wighton in the 34th minute to give the Raiders a 12-0 lead going into the break.
The Tigers fought back hard to narrow the gap to 14-12 through tries to Austin and Martin Taupau – and Pat Richards’ spiralling kick-offs were giving the Raiders all-sorts of grief.
However the home side regrouped and hit back, Milford putting over man-of-the-match Josh Papalii in the 67th minute.
A Milford drop goal, and then try, in the final two minutes sealed the win for the Raiders.