The Canberra Raiders have booked a preliminary final clash against the Melbourne Storm after withstanding a late Penrith Panthers comeback at GIO Stadium.
The Raiders dominated large portions of the game to defeat the Panthers 22-12 on Saturday evening.
After scoring the first 18 points of the match, the Raiders had their backs against the wall as the Panthers scored two late tries.
However, Jarrod Croker scored two late penalties to send the Raiders into the third week of finals.
Blake Austin marked his return from a hand injury by scoring an early try to give the Raiders the lead. The five-eighth fooled the Panthers defence with a dummy pass before running into the subsequent gap to score.
The two teams continued to battle hard through the middle of the field, but the Raiders had the better field position.
Jarrod Croker thought he had scored the Raiders second try of the night when he took the ball from Cartwright to score. However, it was disallowed for due to two players being involved in the tackle on the Panthers five-eighth.
Penrith tested the Raiders line after they had repeated sets but the men in green held firm before gaining possession after a Cartwright error.
Rapana equalled the club record for the most tries scored in a season by a Raider with his 22nd try of 2016.
The winger had Leilua to thank after the barnstorming centre broke through the line before kicking for Rapana. It appeared for a moment that the kick was too deep, but the winger showed great athleticism to latch onto the ball before it reached the dead ball line.
Whitehead tried to repeat Leilua’s achievement on the verge of halftime, but the kick went into touch. As a result, the Raiders entered the sheds at halftime with a 12-0 lead.
The halftime break didn’t stop the Raiders momentum, and Jarrod Croker capitalised with a try. The captain finished off a fine set play by scoring near the eastern touchline.
Despite a difficult conversion, Croker slotted the ball through the posts to add the extra two points.
Edrick Lee almost scored from the restart. Raiders fullback Jack Wighton broke through Penrith’s line before passing the ball forward to Lee.
Peachey scored a try with 20 minutes left to give the Panthers hope. Penrith captain Moylan threw a looping pass to Peachey who scored in the western corner.
The Panthers continued to trouble the Raiders with their second phase play and narrowed the margin to 6 points after Watene-Zelezniak scored an acrobatic try next to the corner post. Nathan Cleary slotted the sideline kick to ensure a grandstand finish.
The Raiders extended their lead to eight points after Aidan Sezer was tackled high by Fisher-Harris in front of the posts. Opting to kick for goal, Croker made no mistake.
The captain successfully kicked a late penalty to steer the team one win away from a grand final.
Raiders 22 (Tries: Austin, Rapana, Croker; Conversions: Croker 3/3; Penalties: Croker 2/2) defeated Panthers 12 (Tries: Peachey, Watene-Zelezniak; Conversions: Cleary 2/2)
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