Jack Wighton was a relieved man after almost single handedly leading the Raiders to victory over Cronulla and then nearly blowing it when he was sinbinned for a flurry of punches on Sharks winger Sosaia Feki.
Both players were sent to the sinbin for their 60th minute stoush as Canberra hung on the upset a disappointing Sharks outfit 24-20 at Remondis Stadium.
However, there is no doubt Wighton was the villian in the incident after being driven into the in-goal after fielding a kick and then reacting by punching Feki – an action that will be scrutinised by the match review committee on Monday along with a chicken wing tackle by Raiders lock Shaun Fensom on Andrew Fifitia.
Earlier, Wighton had been the outstanding player of the match and scored two first half tries as Canberra coach Ricky Stuart’s decision to move him to fullback appeared to be a masterstroke.
While much had been made over the summer about the Sharks new recruits but it was Canberra’s off-season signings who made the biggest impact in the first half, with former St Helens secondrower Sia Soliola, England hooker Josh Hodgson and Fiji winger Sisa Waqa all impressing in their official debuts for the Raiders.
In contrast, Michael Ennis knocked on one of the rare occasions the Sharks were near the Canberra line in the first half, Gerard Beale lost the ball in a trysaving tackle by Wighton and Waqa and Ben Barba failed to find touch from a penalty.
It was another Barba kick that led to Wighton’s 80 metre try after the ball went dead and the Raiders fullback raced to the 20-metre line for the tap re-start.
Catching the entire Cronulla side napping, Wighton raced through the defence and sprinted towards the goal posts to give skipper Jarrod Croker the easiest of conversion attempts.
The 27th minute try extended Canberra’s lead to 14-6 after halfback Mitch Cornish and Croker had combined to put Wighton over in the eighth minute and the newly appointed Canberra captain kicked a 20th minute penalty goal following a shoulder charge by Chris Heighington after Cornish had kicked the ball.
Heighington made amends when he put fellow secondrower Anthony Tupou over for Cronulla’s first try in the 24th minute but Wighton’s quick response appeared to take the wind out of the home team’s sails.
After being denied in the 36th minute when he was bumped into touch by Jordan Rapana, Sharks winger Sosaia Feki finished off a backline movement to score just four minutes into the second half after Wighton had fumbled a kick near his own line
But a handling error by Fifitia from the kick off gave Canberra the opportunity to strike back and they did when Rapana planted the ball in the corner in the 48th minute.
The momentum appeared to have turned when Barba put centre Ricky Luetelle over in the 54th minute and fullback Michael Gordon kicked a penalty goal four minutes later to level the scores at 18-all.
Wighton’s moment of madness enabled Gordon to land another penalty goal to put the Sharks ahead for the first time in the match but their lead was shortlived after Waqa scored from dummy half in the 65th minute following a knock on by Wade Graham from an Austin klick.
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