The Canberra Raiders defeated Newtown by 24-20 in the absorbing VB Premier League qualifying semi-final played at Seiffert Oval on Saturday. The Jets had led by 20-14 with only three minutes of the match remaining, but a sensational Canberra try which was converted from wide out sent the game into golden-point extra time. The Raiders scored first in the extra time period to win this enthralling contest and to maintain the Canberra club�s unbeaten record against Newtown at the Queanbeyan ground.
The Jets lived to fight another day, as both the Bulldogs and the Newcastle Knights were eliminated at the end of the first weekend of the VB Premier League semi-finals. Newtown will now face up to the in-form St. George-Illawarra Dragons at Aussie Stadium next Saturday evening.
Canberra dominated possession and territory early in this match and led by 10-0 after 14 minutes. The Jets fought their way back into the game through better ball control, and late inclusion Michael Sullivan scored a determined try from dummy-half in the 23rd minute. Three minutes later Sullivan made another incisive dash from the middle of the ruck area and deftly positioned full-back Nathan Merritt for his 28th try of the VB Premier League season. Merritt converted his own try for Newtown to lead 12-10. The Raiders scored their third try, a flukish effort from broken play nine minutes before half-time, and went to the break with a 14-12 lead.
The second half was the classic game of inches, with neither side able to gain a decisive advantage. This was engrossing finals football, notable for some ferocious physical exchanges. Newtown�s defence for much of this half was outstanding, and the Jets didn�t concede one penalty in the second forty minutes. Centre Ryan McGoldrick used strength and footwork to force his way over in the corner in the 47th minute, with Nathan Merritt adding a magnificent conversion from the sideline. Merritt also kicked a penalty goal midway through the second half.
The result of this finely balanced game was resolved in effect by the outcome of two turnovers of possession and two rucks. It was a fitting introduction to the stern reality of senior-level finals Rugby League for many of the younger Jets team members. Newtown coach Colin Murphy praised his players after the game for their courage, intensity and tenacity. Warrington-bound Michael Sullivan made an outstanding debut in the Newtown colours, but unfortunately will not qualify for the remainder of the VB Premier League finals series.
Jets front-rower David Thompson gave a typically fearless display and soaked up some terrible punishment. He received great support from fellow packmen Sam Isemonger, James Stosic, Luke Harlen and Tommy Gemmell, while lock Cameron Ciraldo battled on bravely through a debilitating bout of influenza.
Centre Ryan McGoldrick had one of his best games for Newtown, clocking up an impressive 32 tackles. Russell Aitken was also prominent in defence, while Geoff Johnson, Vince Mellars, John Sinisa and Nathan Merritt were the best of the remaining backs.
The Sydney Airport Jets must now regroup for their crucial elimination semi-final against St.George-Illawarra this Saturday (September 17th) at Aussie Stadium, with this sudden-death match due to start at 5.35pm.
Photo: Tough Newtown Jets forward Sam Isemonger gets his pass away despite the close attention of two Canberra Raiders defenders, in the VB Premier League qualifying semi-final played at Seiffert Oval on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Marina Neil, Canberra Times.