The Canberra Raiders have solidified their place in the top four after downing a broken and bruised Penrith Panthers side 30-12 at McDonalds Park in Wagga Wagga.
In front of a raucous crowd of 10,079, the Panthers' season went from bad to worse as they lost Isaah Yeo (shoulder), Viliame Kikau (leg) and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (ribs) to potentially serious injuries.
The Raiders didn't escape either losing England international back-rower John Bateman (suspected fractured eye socket), which isn't ideal as the Green Machine take on the Roosters in the NRL's Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium next week.
Penrith struggled to overcome the required reshuffle as they rued their lack of points in the first half despite having the bulk of the field position.
Canberra too had to overcame the 11th-hour loss of centre Joey Leilua, who was replaced by Michael Oldfield, but handled the adjustment much better.
The Raiders were again desperate in defence despite letting in two late tries to see the final margin close after being ahead 26-6 at one stage.
Victory for Canberra was a crucial one as they regained momentum after their loss to Manly in round seven. It sets them up nicely as they now take aim at the other competition heavyweights in the Roosters and then South Sydney over the next fortnight.
With a breeze at their backs the Panthers were spurred on by a penalty and goal line drop-out in the opening minutes. Winger Josh Mansour surged towards the line and went close to opening the scoring only to knock-on just short of the white chalk.
After Jack Wighton was taken out from a kick downfield, the Raiders applied the pressure to the Panthers line, with a well-weighted grubber finding Michael Oldfield for the first try to make it 6-0.
Again off the back of a penalty, the Panthers poured on the pressure on Canberra's line, with Nathan Cleary only centimetres away from grounding a kick in the in-goal.
The early game niggle between Bateman and Kikau simmered in every tackle, prompting the referee to chat with both players to calm things down.
Panthers counter-attacked when Waqa Blake took a kick on the full and surged 60 metres down field before a sensational try-saving tackle from Jack Wighton.
The pressure on their goal line was unrelenting and the Raiders eventually suffered with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad sent to the sin-bin in the 18th minute.
Penrith suffered a huge blow soon after when Isaah Yeo came from the field with his arm in a temporary jersey sling after a heavy tackle from Elliott Whitehead.
After another run-in with Kikau, Bateman came from the field in the 25th minute for an HIA as the Raiders continued to run out of men.
Match: Raiders v Panthers
Round 8 -
Venue: McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga
- LIVE PASS
However, Wighton continued to impact the game after scoring off the back of an excellent Whitehead off-load as the 'home' side surged ahead again 12-0 lead.
James Maloney was left to rue his attempted short drop-out as he watched the ball sail out on the full, handing the Raiders an important 14-0 lead in the shadows of half-time off the back of the ensuing penalty.
Bateman failed his HIA test and was taken to the local hospital for scans on his eye socket.
Penrith bore down on the Raiders line and despite some desperate defence from Canberra, Nathan Cleary eventually plunged over to narrow the margin to 14-6.
Penrith lost another key backrower, when Kikau was helped off the field after suffering a lower leg injury after bearing the weight of three Raiders defenders.
The spite in the game continued to flow, after Liam Martin and James Maloney were placed in report for a dangerous throw.
Canberra then shifted the ball from the right to left, seeing Nick Cotric spring free down field with the winger held short of the line, again by some desperate defence.
However, Nicoll-Klokstad burrowed over from in close and the Raiders grabbed back the momentum as the margin again grew this time out to 20-6.
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak left the field in the 61st minute after suffering an injury to his ribs, forcing Penrith to undergo another major reshuffle.
Canberra edged ahead after Croker knocked over another penalty from right in front as the Panthers were penalised for a strip in the tackle.
The final nail in the Panther's coffin was hammered in when Croker broke through before Hudson Young to make the score 26-6.
Penrith scored a consolation try after a tap back from the restart, allowing James Tamou to score his second try for the season to make it 26-12 before Canberra secured two late penalties.