Any doubts over Canberra's lofty start to the year were quickly dispelled today at Parramatta Stadium, where the “Green Machine” tag was polished up and worn with pride by this new breed of Raiders, including several former Eels who no doubt took great pleasure in systematically dismantling their former club.
The Raiders are looking even more impressive than the first four rounds of the competition and were completely in control of the game playing mistake free footy throughout the contest. Apart from an inevitable second half fight-back from the Eels, in an effort to avoid being lynched at home, Canberra's 2003 premiership credentials were strengthened in a high scoring battle. The absence of Ruben Wiki seemed to have little effect on the visitors who went on a relentless ambush in the first half, where they secured the victory leading 26-6 at halftime.
It began in the fourth minute for the Raiders, with a strong charge from Luke Davico resulting in a try under the posts. In the seventh, some great lead up work from Ryan O'Hara put the visitors ahead with Jason Croker strolling over after backing up on the inside from about 30 metres out. Clinton Schifcofske stretched the lead to 18-0 after jinking his way through some ordinary defence and going over unopposed.
Five minutes later some individual brilliance from Brett Hodgson kept the home side in touch, after he slid through out wide on the left hand side and fired a pass back inside for a rampaging David Vaelecki to score for the Eels.
Not to be out done, Canberra mounted a challenge to Parra's line with eight minutes to go in the first half. In what was probably the try of the game, Brad Drew grubbered through the defensive line on the fifth after spotting that they had all moved up on him. After regathering, the chunky half-back scooted for 10 metres before slipping a pass to Tyran Smith, who in comparison looked like a hulking tree trunk fleeing a bushfire. Smith powered to the line, ignoring support from Mark McClinden to brush aside Hodgson and score under the sticks.
Schifcofske, who kicked 8 from 8 on the day, converted and added a penalty four minutes later to open up a 26-6 half time lead. The under rated fullback is continuing his great early season form and with help from the likes of Brad Drew, Luke Davico and Jason Croker, Canberra are dominating teams through mistake free footy and enterprising attack.
By stark contrast Parramatta look like a disorganised rabble, with a few fleeting glimpses of brilliance from Brett Hodgson giving the NSW selectors something to consider when eating their breakfast cereal. Their concentration is woeful and they seem to lack any sort of confidence. Whilst injuries have disrupted their year thus far, none of the Parra forwards are willing to stand up and have a go.
The second half began much the same way as the first did, with McClinden scoring in the 46th to push the lead out to 32-6. At this point Canberra relaxed their grip on the game, and the Eels made a spirited fight back which had their faithful holding some hope of a revival.
Tries to Hodgson in the 48th, Dunley in the 60th and Richards in the 67th bought the home side back to within 10 points of Canberra at 32-22. But they simply ran out of gas, with some poor options and lack of discipline leading to two more penalty conversions from Schifcofske sealing the game for the Raiders.
Whilst coach Matt Elliot would no doubt be happy with the victory, he would also be working towards fixing the lapse in concentration that lead to Parramatta racking up 16 points in the second half. Brian Smith, however, must be thinking what he can do to reverse his team's dismal start to the season. The solution must surely begin in the forward pack, as none of his forwards are running with purpose and the halves look uncertain of what to do at times, relying on the odd raid by crafty fullback Brett Hodgson.
League Unlimited Player of the Year Points:
3 - Clinton Schifcofske 2 - Brad Drew 1 - Brett Hodgson
Tyran Smith, Jason Croker and Nathan Cayless get an honourable mention.
By the Clock:
4th minute: TRY - Luke Davico charges over under the posts. Goes to the video referee for confirmation. Bill Harrigan upstairs today and awards the try. Canberra 4-0.
5th minute: Clinton Schifcofske makes no mistake with a simple conversion. Canberra 6-0.
7th minute: TRY - Jason Croker storms onto the ball after a Ryan O'Hara burst. Dives straight under the posts and Canberra lead 10-0.
8th minute: Schifcofske converts again easily. Canberra 12-0.
17th minute: TRY - Schifcofske cuts through some sloppy defence out wide and brings it back around under the posts. Canberra 16-0.
18th minute: Schifcofske punches the ball through from the same mound of dirt. Canberra 18-0. Parramatta on the ropes and looking to have no answer to Canberra's no nonsense style of play.
22nd minute: TRY - Brett Hodgson makes a great break down the left flank and gets a ball inside to David Vaelecki who scores ten in from touch.
23rd minute: Hodgson makes a clean strike and Parra trail the Raiders 18-6.
32nd minute: TRY - Tyran Smith. Brad Drew cleverly grubbers through, regathers and offloads to a barnstorming Smith who scores under the uprights. Raiders 22-6
33rd minute: Schifcofske hits his fourth from in front. Raiders 24-6.
36th minute: Schifcofske lands a penalty from about 35m out for a 20-point lead. Raiders 26-6.
Canberra completely dominating and keeping the score board attendant busy with a 26-6 lead. Vaelecki out with a broken nose and fractured cheekbone. Davico gone with a groin strain.
46th minute: TRY - Mark McClinden slices through some flimsy defence and selectively passes to Jamaal Lolesi amongst the horde of support players lining up for the meat pie. Raiders 30-6.
46th minute: Schifcofske is having an easy day from in front. Raiders 32-6.
48th minute: TRY - Hodgson runs off a short pass from Nathan Cayless and scores 15 wide of the posts. Raiders 32-10.
48th minute: Hodgson converts. Raiders 32-12.
60th minute: TRY - Shayne Dunley. A quick dummy-half skirt sees Parra close the gap to 16 points. Raiders 32-16
61st minute: Conversion Hodgson. Raiders 32-18.
67th minute: Pat Richards scores out wide to reduce the deficit to 10. Raiders 32-22.
68th minute: Hodgson misses from the sideline. Score remains Raiders 32-22.
72nd minute: Schifcofske kicks a penalty goal to take the lead to 34-22.
76th minute: Schifcofske kicks another penalty goal, this time from out wide, to put the game beyond doubt. Raiders 36-22.
Canberra keep their impressive early season form going and stay on top of the ladder. Parramatta suffer another crushing blow in a very poor start to the year.