Cornish, Wighton give Raiders new hope

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.

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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.

Recovering Ronaldo rested for Real’s clash with Sociedad

The Portuguese has struggled with injuries since the back end of last season and has also not been called up by Portugal for the upcoming international break, which means almost three weeks off for the mercurial 29-year-old.

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“He is okay but we have preferred to use this week and the following two for him to recover fully and get him in top condition. He will not play tomorrow and is not in the squad,” Ancelotti told a news conference in Madrid.

Ronaldo has recovered from the knee injury that affected him at the end of the last campaign but was also not 100 percent at the World Cup in Brazil.

Of late, he has been troubled with a hamstring strain he picked up in the defeat by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

His absence means James Rodriguez is likely to play in the three-man attack alongside Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema with Isco slotting into the midfield.

Real have been weakened by the departures of Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso this week, and Ancelotti admitted he was taken aback by the decision of the latter to go to Bayern Munich.

“It was a surprise. Everything was calm and so we were a bit surprised but we respect him a lot. Alonso is a very honest person with himself and with the Real Madrid,” said the Italian.

“He explained it well and said that he needed more motivation. Everyone here at the club respects him and it would have been very difficult to get him to change his mind. You can’t say to a player like Xabi that he couldn’t leave. I wish him luck and he has been a very important player for the team last season.

“It is possible that some people think that the team is under-strength but we have players that can perform in different positions. We have five strikers because Isco and James (Rodriguez) can play there.

“The squad is not closed because the market is still open. Maybe we will sign somebody but at the same time it is possible we won’t.”

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Gritty Roosters see off Storm

The Sydney Roosters have served notice to the rest of the NRL that they are still the team to beat after producing a battling performance to beat Melbourne 24-12 at Allianz Stadium.

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The defending premiers’ rise up the ladder has almost gone unnoticed after their sluggish start to the season, but they’ve peaked at precisely the right time.

They have moved up to second spot and can potentially win a second successive minor premiership with victory over competition leaders South Sydney on Thursday.

Craig Bellamy’s side were on top for most of the encounter thanks to two Billy Slater tries but the game turned in favour of the hosts 15 minutes from time when Mitchell Pearce scored following a rare mistake from Cameron Smith.

Despite the rainswept conditions both teams produced a finals-like match-up in front of a disappointing crowd of 13,879.

The Roosters opened the scoring when NSW winger Daniel Tupou timed his run perfectly to latch onto Jake Friend’s well-executed grubber kick after just four minutes.

But the Storm responded well and had the bulk of possession thanks to back-to-back penalties against the home side before Slater darted under the posts allowing Smith to level the game with a close range kick.

The Roosters’ defence held out the visitors despite some heavy pressure as the sides went into the break at 6-6.

A James Maloney penalty restored the Roosters’ lead early in the second period, but the NSW representative then coughed up the ball from the resulting kick-off and from the scrum Slater scampered over for his second.

With Cooper Cronk and Slater having a greater influence on the game, the Roosters were pegged back in their own half.

However, they got the break they so desperately needed when Smith threw an awful pass from a scrum that fell short of Sisa Waqa and Pearce picked up the loose ball to race to the line.

Boosted by that piece of good fortune, Trent Robinson’s side stepped up a gear.

They forced a third try when Storm prop Jesse Bromwich lost the ball and Aidan Guerra fell on a Maloney kick to score his fourth of the season.

That setback knocked the stuffing out of the Storm and Tupou scored his second late in the game to secure a 12-point victory.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson was full of praise for Pearce’s second-half performance but admitted his side needed all of their defensive qualities to stay in the game.

“I thought Cronk owned the first half but Pearcey owned the second,” Robinson said.

“We needed to match Cronk in his decision making and that comes down to halves and Pearcey stood up and had some good variety and control.

“It probably wasn’t our best performance in certain areas … it could have blown out in the first half with all their possession and we did well to go in at 6-6 at halftime.

“Our defence was OK in yardage but very good on our goal-line.”

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said the Storm dressing room was a sombre one and said his side were guilty of throwing away the two points.

“For most of the game we had a fair bit of control, not taking anything away from the Roosters, they hung in there and defended well,” Bellamy said.

“But we lost control of it through our own doing and that hurt us in the end.”

Tigers clinch AFL finals spot

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick believes the Tigers are better placed going into this year’s finals than last season, after they clinched eighth spot with another extraordinary effort in a three-point win over AFL leaders Sydney on Saturday.

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The Tigers, who notched their ninth straight win, scored the first 33 points and five goals of the game at ANZ Stadium and held on to record a 10.8 (68) to 9.11 (65) victory.

Sydney kicked seven goals to two to briefly hit the front in the third quarter but the Tigers would not be denied.

Jack Riewoldt finished with four goals, three of them in the Tigers’ furious early onslaught.

Brett Deledio kicked three goals and got 27 touches, while Trent Cotchin logged 29 possessions.

Down back, Troy Chaplin and Alex Rance were immense, while Ivan Maric dominated the hitouts,

Sydney had their chances in the final quarter, twice getting within two points in a tension filled finale.

“It’s been 74-75 since we made back-to-back finals series and the way we’ve done it has been hard, but it’s built a steely resolve,” Hardwick said.

“Our boys have got unbelievable belief and faith in what they are doing, so however they go (in the finals) will be entirely up to them.

“But the way they play, the spirit they show; the tenacity to fight back when you’ve been headed in the last quarter three, four weeks in a row, is testament to how far they’ve come.

“Without being disrespectful to last year, I reckon we would have lost those games.

Hardwick said it seemed like Richmond’s 3-10 start was a lifetime ago.

“It’s been an enormous journey. Since then the momentum the guys have gained and the way they are playing, it’s terrific,” he said.

“I think we’ve turned the corner and started to lay the foundations of sustained success for us.”

The Swans suffered a blow before the game when star forward and Coleman Medal leader Lance Franklin withdrew with knee soreness.

Sydney coach John Longmire expected all of his injured players – Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn, Craig Bird and Mike Pyke to train during the week.

“We didn’t start the way we’d like to the first quarter and probably ten minutes of the second. I thought our effort after that was pretty good,” Longmire said.

“We had a go, our blokes wanted to win, you can’t knock them for that,” Longmire said.

He was delighted that his side still finished as minor premiers.

“To be able to get off to a slow start (1-3) that we did and be able to sit here now at the end of the home-and-away season and go into a home final next week is what you want,” Longmire said.

“But we also know the work is very much in front of us now.”

Dan Hannebery secured 33 disposals and Tom Mitchell 30 for Sydney who had just one multiple goalkicker in Sam Reid, who finished with two majors.

Richmond’s rise continues into AFL finals

Heavyweights Hawthorn and Geelong will clash in a blockbuster opening to an AFL finals series featuring fairytale finishers Richmond.

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The Tigers booked the last available finals spot – eighth position – with a dramatic three-point away triumph against minor premiers Sydney on Saturday.

The Hawks and Cats clash in a qualifying final on Friday night at the MCG in a bumper opening to the finals series.

The Swans host Fremantle in a qualifying final on Saturday afternoon, with North Melbourne meeting Essendon in an elimination final at the MCG on Saturday night.

The Dockers pipped Port Adelaide for fourth spot and the precious double chance – no team has won a flag without it in the current finals format.

Port host the Tigers in an elimination final at Adelaide Oval on Sunday afternoon.

Richmond provide the feel-good subplot: nine consecutive victories clinched a play-off position after their season was on life support after slumping to three wins from their opening 13 games.

“It is unbelievable,” Tigers coach Damien Hardwick said.

“The credit has to go to our playing group. They have been incredibly brave … and never wavered in their belief they could get where we wanted to go.”

Fremantle sealed fourth spot by downing Port Adelaide by eight points in Perth on Saturday.

“It’s pleasing for the playing group that they get to have a genuine assault again,” Dockers coach Ross Lyon said.

“We go into (the finals) in good form … we respect everyone but nothing really holds any fears for us.”

The result meant Port finished fifth and missed the double chance, but Power coach Ken Hinkley preferred a positive spin.

“Today is perfect preparation … right now we are playing as good a footy as we have played all year,” Hinkley said.

North Melbourne finished sixth and will confront seventh-placed Essendon after the Bombers were involved in a dramatic draw against non-finalists Carlton on Saturday.

“It’s exciting to be in the finals and we’re there so we have got to try and keep it all positive and get them fresh,” Essendon coach Mark Thompson said.

“Everybody in the world knows that we can play good football. I just don’t know if we can play for a whole game.”

THE FINALS

Friday – qualifying final: Hawthorn v Geelong, MCG, 1950 AEST

Saturday – qualifying final: Sydney v Fremantle, ANZ Stadium, 1420 AEST

Saturday – elimination final: North Melbourne v Essendon, MCG, 1915 AEST

Sunday – elimination final: Port Adelaide v Richmond, Adelaide Oval, 1520 AEST