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Raiders win big over Tigers, allow Titans into NRL playoffs

Associated Press Associated Press 4/09/2016

SYDNEY — The Canberra Raiders did Gold Coast a big favor on Sunday, beating the Wests Tigers 52-10 to allow the Titans to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the National Rugby League.

The Titans, leading Wests by a competition point, lost 32-16 to defending champions North Queensland on Saturday and had to rely on the Tigers losing to remain in eighth.

The Raiders, who moved past Cronulla and into second place with the win, led 30-4 at halftime. But Titans captain Nathan Friend said he didn't feel confident until close to the end of the match.

Five or six Gold Coast players watched the match together, but most spent time with their families on Father's Day in Australia.

"When the result's out of your hands, you're very anxious," Friend said after the match ended. "Not even at halftime were you confident, not until probably 10 (minutes) to go."

The playoff picture next weekend has first-place Melbourne hosting fourth-place North Queensland in one qualifying final, with Canberra at home against Cronulla in the other, both on Saturday.

The winners of those matches get a week's rest before the preliminary finals, while the losers, under the "second-chance" NRL playoff system for the top four teams, play the winners of the elimination finals involving teams placed fifth to eighth.

Those elimination matches will see the fifth-place Brisbane Broncos play Gold Coast on Friday in Brisbane, and Canterbury take on Penrith on Sunday. Penrith overtook Canterbury for sixth place with a 36-6 win over Manly later Sunday.

Canterbury's Sunday match means the side will be without star fullback Will Hopoate, who has already not played a number of Sunday matches this season due to his Mormon faith. He will not be available for the game against Penrith.

It is the first time that all three Queensland state teams — the Cowboys, Broncos and Titans — have made the playoffs in the same year.

Melbourne defeated Cronulla 26-6 on Saturday to clinch the minor premiership. The Storm went into the match a point ahead of the Sharks, and never looked like surrendering first place after leading 10-2 at halftime.

In another match Sunday, Parramatta beat the New Zealand Warriors 40-18. The Eels finished with 18 points, but they were docked 12 competition points for salary cap infringements and fined earlier in the season. The 30 points they would have accrued without the penalty would have qualified them for the playoffs — tied for seventh place.

Canberra's Jarrod Croker finished the regular season leading all point scorers with 276 from 17 tries and 104 goals, including a try and six goals on Sunday. Suliasi Vunivalu of Melbourne led all try scorers with 22, two better than Canberra's Jordan Rapana, who scored two on Sunday.

The Storm has won both matches against the Cowboys this year, but captain Cameron Smith expected a much tougher encounter in the playoffs.

"This is finals, and these guys are the reigning premiers so they know how to play these big games," Smith said. "In recent years, they've had a pretty good record down in Melbourne, and when you win a competition you don't fear any team or any venue."

The four-week playoff schedule concludes on Sunday, Oct. 2 with the grand final at Sydney's Olympic stadium.

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