Cotric sizzles as Raiders keep faint hopes alive
THE Raiders remain alive in 2017 but the Dally M Rookie of the Year race has been run and done with 18-year-old Cooma kid Nick Cotric starring again in a comprehensive 32-18 disposal of South Sydney.
Canberra's showing against a bumbling Bunnies mob won't have the top eight quaking in their boots, but enough was done to keep their faint finals hopes afloat and draw within two wins of the eighth-placed Dragons.
Cotric on the other hand has NRL rivals well and truly on notice, continuing to deliver on the potential that had him rated the equal of Ricky Stuart, Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker and any other local junior in the Raiders history.
The broken jaw suffered by Cronulla's Jayden Brailey opened up the rookie race for Cotric a month ago.
But again he left his opponents for dead with his 13th try for the year, a couple of crucial plays at important junctures, 115 running metres and a sound display under the high ball at ANZ Stadium.
The Raiders fortunes looked nowhere near as promising from an opening kick-off allowed to bounce by Blake Austin, requiring one of his monster dropouts just moments later.
When Adam Reynolds put it on the toe again, only a misbehaving ball denied Hymel Hunt a try within the first 90 seconds.
Four errors in the next six minutes from Souths bit the Bunnies eventually, as Croker muscled through down the left edge for his 105th NRL try to draw level with Brett Mullins and behind only Jason Croker (120) in the Raiders record books.
With the Rabbitohs a rabble in attack, Canberra's next points came from the hoof of a wrong-footed Robert Jennings, whose attempt to clean up an Aidan Sezer kick with his foot only bobbled straight up for Joe Tapine to crash straight over.
Once more Reynolds' kicking game kept the visitors honest, before Cody Walker came up trumps with his own as Jack Wighton dawdled over a grubber in his in-goal, cutting the Raiders lead back to 14-6.
A bust from Tapine and quick hands put Cotric away before halftime, while another from Croker had them all but over again only for Clay Priest to spill a tough pass as the line loomed.
With Sam Burgess succumbing to the rib injury that had him in doubt this week, the contest was ripe for the Raiders to pick.
Instead it was Reynolds and the Rabbitohs exposing an out-of-position Wighton again after the break, and rookie Tyrell Fuimaono nabbing his first NRL try as the ball bounced his way.
After a slew of errors were traded by both sides Cotric busted the game open with a long, winding run and Angus Crichton's binning for holding him down afterwards finally broke the Bunnies.
Three tackles later Luke Bateman strolled through a defensive line one man short for an insurmountable 26-12 lead, then seven minutes on Michael Oldfield ran around them.
An 80th-minute four-pointer to Alex Johnston did Souths no good but the Raiders no favour either.
Their for and against of +35 is inferior to the ninth-placed Panthers (24 points, +37), surprise Saturday losers St George Illawarra (24 points, +75) and seventh-placed Manly (26 points, +57).
Sitting four points in arrears, Canberra can't afford a slip up for the rest of the year. But just like Cotric they have it all in front of them.