Souths beat Canberra to top NRL ladder

South Sydney have scored a 16-12 NRL win over the Raiders in a tight NRL match in Canberra.
South Sydney have scored a 16-12 NRL win over the Raiders in a tight NRL match in Canberra.

South Sydney are on top of the NRL ladder after grinding out their "toughest game of the season", beating Canberra 16-12.

Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett said rugby league was the real winner in a brutal contest that went down to the final play on Saturday night in front of 16,965 fans at Canberra Stadium.

"I thought it was a wonderful game of football and the best crowd I've seen since I've been coming here," Bennett said.

"The players really got involved and rugby league won tonight. There was nothing between the teams and it went all the way.

"In terms of games this season, that was certainly the most quality game we've played in."

The first try didn't arrive until the competition's most-prolific scorer, Souths five-eighth Cody Walker, crossed for his 11th of the season on 50 minutes.

It was a war of attrition in the capital as the teams exchanged penalty goals in the first half and the Raiders took a 6-4 lead into the break.

Canberra responded to Walker's try when young gun Nick Cotric burst through and offloaded to Elliot Whitehead, who found Sam Williams to finish the job on the hour mark.

The Rabbitohs regained the lead when Mawene Hiroti crossed in the corner for his first NRL try and Adam Reynolds slotted the sideline conversion.

Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker looked set to cross for a certain try in the final two minutes but a last-ditch tackle from Souths fullback Corey Allan dislodged the ball.

Corey Horsburgh, 21, gave Canberra one more chance at the death after stripping the ball, but the Rabbitohs' defence held firm.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart praised his young players for stepping up in the absence of injured internationals, Jordan Rapana, Joe Tapine, John Bateman and Joey Leilua.

"Those four players are world class and, yet, the younger players are coming in and filling their positions and what they're contributing is very healthy for the club," Stuart said.

"Another 30 games for Hudson Young and he'll be a different player again, Bailey Simonsson, Charnze (Nicoll-Klokstad) ... they're giving us something I haven't had at this club since I've been here - depth.

"I don't give a stuff what people say. You need luck in this competition and, if we get a little bit of luck, we've got a really healthy season on our hands."

Souths leapfrog the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne as the only team with a 9-1 record.

Australian Associated Press