The Canberra Raiders are through to their first grand final since 1994 after a 16-6 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs in front of a record 26,567 crowd at GIO Stadium.
With a Grand Final berth on the line, the match started with an intensity befitting the occasion as the Raiders looked to rattle the South Sydney forward pack.
The captains combined to give the Raiders the lead in the 15th minute as a Josh Hodgson one-on-one strip on Ethan Lowe ensured the Green Machine started the set in good field position.
Hodgson finished the set with composure with an inch perfect grubber towards Corey Allan in the in-goal. The chase from Croker and Hodgson saw Allan cough up the ball and Croker grounded the ball for the first points of the match.
South Sydney came close to scoring as a set play from a scrum saw them attack the blind side. Cody Walker found himself in space but a heroic tackle from Hodgson saw the Rabbitohs playmaker lose the ball.
The Rabbitohs continued plying pressure and levelled the scores in the 29th minute as Dane Gagai scored in the corner.
South Sydney continued to enjoy good field position but the Raiders defence continued to hold on as Junior Tatola was stopped millimetres before the line.
The Raiders continued to be work hard and defence and were nearly rewarded when Jack Wighton managed to collect a loose ball and sprint into open space. However Gagai managed to chase the five-eighth down to ensure the two sides went into the break tied at 6-6.
Wighton gave the Raiders the lead early in the second half with some wonderful improvisation on the last play. Aidan Sezer’s towering kick was batted backwards by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad into the hands of Wighton who put in a kick for himself and scored in the eastern corner.
Josh Papalii was put on report for a dangerous tackle on Adam Doueihi as Sam Burgess escaped a similar situation for a high tackle on Jarrod Croker.
The Rabbitohs continued to pile on the pressure as they forced four consecutive line dropouts but the Raiders defence continued to hold on despite Joey Leilua being forced from the field with injury.
With ten minutes remaining on the clock, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
An incorrect play the ball from Doueihi close to the line gave the Raiders the perfect opportunity. Just like he did in Melbourne in Round 22, Josh Papalii found his way over the line under the posts. Croker slotted the conversion to extend the Raiders’ lead to 16-6.
Campbell Graham scored a late consolation try but it wasn’t enough to stop the Raiders from progressing to the Grand Final.
Canberra Raiders 16 (Tries: J Croker, J Wighton, J Papalii; Goals: J Croker 2) d South Sydney Rabbitohs 10 (Tries: D Gagai, C Graham; Goals: A Reynolds )