After trailing 10-8 at halftime, a young and enthusiastic Bulldogs outfit dominated most of the second half to lead 28-14 with only 6 minutes to go.
It appeared that a record 24 point haul by Bulldogs second-rower Rhys Martin would be rewarded with victory but a brilliant late cameo by interchange five-eighth Blake Austin inspired the Raiders to score 3 late tries and snatch victory.
Here are five things we learned from this game.
1. The Green Machine steal one at the death themselves
Coach Ricky Stuart will sleep well tonight after the Canberra Raiders came up with one of the great escapes to turn almost certain defeat into victory. The second half performance was largely disappointing with a lack of discipline and some ordinary defence allowing Dean Pay’s Bulldogs to surge ahead to a 28-14 lead. Just when the Raiders were set to suffer a humbling loss, Blake Austin, Joseph Tapine, and Joseph Leilua crossed for tries in a rampant 6-minute spell to earn a vital win for Canberra.
It was an inconsistent display again but the Raiders will feel they deserve a change of fortune, having lost 5 games by 4 points or less in 2018 and also having given up leads of 10 points or more on 4 occasions.
The Bulldogs will be feeling much like the Raiders have on several occasions in 2018 after giving up a seemingly unassailable lead. The men in Blue and White looked home after 3 try star Rhys Martin kicked a penalty goal with 8 minutes to go but the Raiders showed real character to not give up and create 3 late tries.
2. Blake better off the bench
It has been a tough week for Canberra five-eighth Blake Austin with him being dropped to the bench and his future at the Raiders in doubt, however, his late impact off the bench has helped keep the Raiders season alive.
In a 13 minute stint, Austin ran for 118 metres, made 3 line breaks and scored a crucial try to start the Raiders comeback.
His footwork and acceleration were too difficult for tiring Bulldogs defenders to handle late in the game.
Austin had been under fire for his poor defence in the 26-22 loss to Brisbane last week and his organising skills have been continually questioned but there was no disputing his brilliance and impact off the bench tonight.
3. Bulldogs can’t buy a win at Belmore
Just when the Bulldogs looked to be sending their loyal fans at the Belmore Sports Ground home happy, they leaked 3 late tries to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
Canterbury-Bankstown have now lost six of their last seven games at the traditional suburban venue.
This was at least a far more committed effort than their previous loss to the Gold Coast Titans by 32-10 in Round 14.
4. Bulldogs rookies provide hope for the future
The Bulldogs have had a wretched season and are still very much in wooden spoon contention but the last two weeks has given their fans cause for optimism with some superb performance by their youngsters.
Second Rower Rhys Martin scored 3 tries and kicked 6 goals for a total of 24 points in a record points tally for a Bulldogs player against the Raiders.
Martin backed up a quality short pass at the line from rookie five eighth Lachlan Lewis in the 41st minutes for the first of his 3 tries.
In the 58th minute Martin was on hand to scoop up a Brett Morris bat back from a Lewis bomb and just 4 minutes later Josh Morris produced a superb flick pass sending Martin on a 40-metre run to the line.
While young halves combination Lachlan Lewis and Jeremy Marshall-King struggled with their decision making under pressure at times, they also looked more dangerous than previous Bulldogs halves combinations have which is a positive sign for the club’s future.
5. Raiders keep finals hopes alive
The Raiders miraculous comeback sees them remain a realistic chance of playing finals this season.
The gap between 8th and 9th will be reduced to just 4 points if the Brisbane Broncos are upset by The Gold Coast Titans on Sunday afternoon, while a Bronco victory will restore it to a more ominous 6 points.
Next Saturday Night the Raiders host the embattled North Queensland Cowboys at Canberra Stadium, before facing top eight teams the Cronulla Sharks, Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers all away from home in consecutive weeks.
Skipper Jarrod Croker looked sharp against the Bulldogs scoring a try and laying on four pointers for Sam Williams and Nick Cotric while hooker Josh Hodgson continued to impress in his third game back from injury.
However, the Raiders lack of discipline and continued defensive issues very nearly cost them another game so Ricky Stuart’s team needs to show improvement across the board if they are to make a run for the finals.
What did you learn from the Raider’s last-gasp victory over the Bulldogs at Belmore? Let us know in the comments below.
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