Road to the grand final: How the Raiders arrived at the big dance

The Canberra Raiders have surprised everyone this year and are now just one win away from their first premiership since 1994. This is their road to the grand final. 

Round 1: Raiders 21 - Titans 0

Canberra got off to the perfect start in 2019, beating the Titans 21-0 – the first time they've kept a side scoreless since 2013. In horrible wet conditions, the Raiders scored early through two penalty goals before Jarrod Croker scored the team's first try of the season in the 20th minute. John Bateman led the way for the Raiders in an impressive NRL debut, making 36 tackles and running for 154 metres.

Round 2: Storm 22 - Raiders 10

A first-half hat-trick by Suliasi Vunivalu gave the Raiders their first loss of the season. The Storm's brilliant defence kept the Raiders scoreless for most of the match. It wasn't until the 50th minute when Croker dived over to score the Raiders' first try and they scored again in the 67th minute but Melbourne's defence was too good and they held on to win the game.

Round 3: Raiders 17 - Knights 10

A Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad double gave Canberra their first home win of the season against the Knights. The new recruit opened the scoring after he pounced on a Josh Hodgson grubber kick. Both teams went on to score as Canberra led 12-4 at half-time. Nicoll-Klokstad grabbed his second try of the night in the 60th minute, then the Knights hit back four minutes later through Shaun Kenny-Dowall to make it a six-point game. A Sam Williams field goal in the 76th minute guaranteed the win for Canberra.

Round 4: Raiders 30 - Cowboys 12

A brilliant performance from dynamic duo Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana helped the Raiders to a dominant 30-12 win over the Cowboys. Nick Cotric opened the scoring in the third minute before Leilua and Rapana both scored. A Gavin Cooper try made it 16-6 at the break. The hosts ran away with it in the second half with tries to Croker and a second to Rapana sealing the win.

Round 5: Raiders 19 - Eels 0

It was another clean sheet for the Raiders as they flexed their defensive muscle to keep the Eels scoreless in a performance that showed everyone just how good the Raiders can be. Williams produced plenty of repeat sets early on but Parramatta's defence held strong, but the Eels couldn't stop a rampaging Josh Papalii charging over from 10 metres out in the 27th minute. Canberra scored two more tries through Elliott Whitehead and Jack Wighton before Williams finished the game of with a field goal from close range to make it 19-0.

Round 6: Raiders 26 - Broncos 22

The Raiders edged out the Broncos in a nine-try thriller at GIO Stadium, their first win against the Broncos since 2013. There were plenty of momentum swings throughout the match with both teams going try for try, but it was a crucial 40/20 from Wighton in the 59th minute which led to Bateman crashing over from dummy half in the next set to regain the lead for the Raiders. Leilua was the Raiders' best player, scoring two tries and running for 125 metres.

Round 7: Sea Eagles 24 - Raiders 20

Raiders fans would've been having flashbacks to last year as they lost another close game they should've won. Canberra led 14-12 at half-time after Wighton scored two early tries but it was former Raiders halfback Lachlan Croker who stepped up and stole the show, taking over as the chief playmaker after Daly Cherry-Evans hobbled from the field with an ankle injury and led a brilliant Manly comeback, scoring a double. A late try to Nicoll-Klokstad in the 78th minute gave Canberra some hope but Manly held on to win.

Round 8: Raiders 30 - Panthers 12

Canberra took a home game out to the bush in Wagga Wagga and gave the Riverina locals one hell of a show thrash the Panthers 30-12. The win came at a cost though as star Englishman Bateman fractured his eye-socket while attempting to tackle Viliame Kikau. Papalii was at his rampaging best, running for a game-high 144 metres and laying the platform for halves Wighton and Williams to create plenty of opportunities for the outside backs.

Round 9: Roosters 30 - Raiders 24

In what turned out to be an early grand final preview, the Roosters held off a defiant Raiders side in a Magic Round thriller. The Roosters raced to a 30-6 lead in the first half as Canberra struggled to contain the magic of Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco. The Green Machine bounced back in the second half and scored three second-half tries through Nicoll-Klokstad, Wighton and Michael Oldfield and almost levelled the scores in the 80th minute but a forward pass by Cotric denied them a chance to take the game to golden point.

Round 10: Rabbitohs 16 - Raiders 12

Canberra suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in 2019, going down to a gritty South Sydney side who defended their way to victory. It was a frustrating first half with plenty of penalties and both teams knew it was going to be a close game, choosing to take the two points whenever they got the chance. There were no tries until the 50th minute when Cody Walker sliced through a gap. The Raiders led 6-4 at half-time and then regained the lead at 12-10 with 10 minutes remaining before a Walker cut-out pass set up winger Mawene Hiroti to score the match-winner.

Round 11: Cowboys 22 - Raiders 16

Canberra lost yet another close game went they went down to the Cowboys 22-16 at home. The Raiders struggled to contain Jason Taumalolo as he ran for 251 metres and laid the platform for Jake Granville to cause havoc around the ruck. Oldfield grabbed the Raiders' second try in the first half to give the Raiders the lead but the Cowboys hit back through Justin O'Neill and stayed in front for the rest of the match thanks to a Kyle Feldt try and three penalty goals to Jordan Kahu.

Round 12: Raiders 12 - Bulldogs 10

The Raiders got back in the winner's circle in what was a hard-fought 12-10 win against a gritty Bulldogs side who just wouldn't go away. Canberra led 10-0 at half-time but the Bulldogs came back in the second half and levelled the scores at 10-10 before Croker kicked the winning penalty goal. Nicoll-Klokstad was difficult to contain, running for 296 metres while Bateman came back three weeks early from his fractured eye socket to inspire his side to victory in a brilliant performance, scoring a try and running for 120 metres.

Round 13: Raiders 28 – Wests Tigers 0

Canberra marked their return to the top four with another defensive shutout as they thrashed the Tigers at Bankwest Stadium. It took the Raiders just three minutes to open the scoring through Bailey Simonsson, but they were made to wait 30 minutes before scoring again. When the Tigers' defence eventually crumbled Rapana dived over to score in his 100th Raiders appearance and John Bateman scored a brilliant try on the stroke of half-time to make it 18-0. Two more tries in the second half made it 28-0 in a dominant performance.

Round 14: Raiders 22 - Sharks 20

Canberra defeated the Sharks for the first time at home since 2012 in a 22-20 thriller. Early tries to Aidan Sezer, Simonsson and Croker gave Canberra a 20-0 lead in the first half as Croker took his Raiders try-scoring tally to 120, equalling Jason Croker's club record. Cronulla hit back though, scoring four unanswered tries of their own to level the game at 20-20 before Jarrod Croker kicked a penalty goal to regain the lead and the Raiders held on to win the game.

Round 15: Eels 22 - Raiders 16

Canberra lost another close one to the Eels in what was a frustrating game for the men in lime green. It took the Raiders just three minutes to open the scoring through Nicoll-Klokstad, and Wighton and Sebastian Kris followed suit to extend the lead to 16-0 after 31 minutes in a game that looked like it was going to be another big Canberra. Parramatta fought back though, scoring twice before half-time, and the Raiders were made to pay for plenty of uncharacteristic errors in the second half. The Eels scored two more tries to come from behind and win the match.

Round 16 Bye

Time to briefly rest and recuperate and prepare mentally for the final third of the season.

Round 17: Raiders 36 - Dragons 14

Jarrod Croker broke Canberra's all-time try scoring record and inspired the Raiders to a big victory over the Dragons. Croker also became the youngest player to reach 1900 points at just 28 years of age. The match wasn't without controversy though as Cotric was penalised for a dangerous throw on Tim Lafai and became the first player sent off since Melbourne's Curtis Scott was dismissed for punching in round 11 last year. The incident overshadowed an impressive performance by the Raiders, who were far too clinical for the Dragons as they ran in seven tries to three.

Round 18: Raiders 20 - Tigers 12

The Raiders held off a fast finishing Tigers side to notch a 20-12 win at GIO Stadium. It was a big game for the Raiders as more than 100 Canberra old boys watched on as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of the club's 1989 premiership and they didn't let them down, putting in a clinical performance against a quality Tigers side who were fighting for a spot in the top 8. Canberra led 20-6 at half time, but it was the Tigers who came flying out in the second half with some Benji Marshall magic setting up David Nofoaluma to score and get the tigers back in the game. But Canberra's defence was too good as they held out the Tigers to get the win.

Round 19: Raiders 30 - Panthers 18

Penrith came into the game on a seven-match winning streak but were no match for the ruthless Raiders, who celebrated Sia Soliola's 100th club appearance with a 30-18 win. Six different try-scorers and several enormous defensive efforts from the Green Machine helped them chalk up a third win in a row and prove that they are genuine premiership contenders. Canberra started on the back foot when Brian To'o scored the first try, but big runs from Bateman and Papalii laid the platform for the halves to pile on the points and win the match. 

Round 20: Raiders 46 - Warriors 12

The Raiders ran riot over the Warriors in a 46-12 thrashing - their biggest win of the year. Canberra's big forwards did the solid groundwork and outmuscled the Warriors pack, and off the back of that hooker Josh Hodgson, playing in his 100th Telstra Premiership game, enjoyed a huge night at the office which included a try, more than 100 running metres and two line break assists. Canberra ran in eight tries to two in what was their fourth win in a row.

Round 21: Roosters 22 - Raiders 18

The Roosters held off a fast finishing Raiders side who proved that they are serious title contenders in a close game that could've gone either way. The Roosters scored first but Canberra fought back with tries to Rapana and Croker to lead 12-6. The Roosters scored two more tries before half-time to lead 18-12 at the break and then Daniel Tupou opened the scoring in the second half to give the Roosters a 10-point lead. Elliott Whitehead scored off a Hodgson grubber and set up a thrilling finish in the final 15 minutes but the Roosters defence was just too good and they held on for a 22-18 win. 

Round 22: Raiders 22 - Storm 18

Canberra had one of their best wins of the season against the Storm down at AAMI Park to prove that they are a genuine premiership threat. Melbourne raced away to an 18-0 lead in the first 30 minutes before Jarrod Croker got the Raiders on the scoreboard just before half-time as they went into the break trailing 18-4. Some ill-discipline and uncharacteristic errors from the Storm invited the Raiders back into the game and they made them pay, scoring twice to make it a two-point game. A one-on-one strip from Hodgson with five minutes to go changed the momentum of the game and not long after it was a rampaging Papalii who crashed through two defenders from 10 metres out to score the match-winner.

Round 23: Sea Eagles 18 - Raiders 14

The Raiders went down in another close game against Manly, losing 18-14. Croker scored all of Canberra's points, bagging a double and kicking three goals. The Raiders led 8-4 at half-time and kicked a penalty goal early in the second half to lead 10-4. Manly came back though, with tries to Reuben Garrick and Jake Trbojevic, and a penalty goal giving Manly an 18-10 lead. A late try to Croker gave the Raiders some hope of coming back but Manly held on to win the match.

Round 24: Raiders 15 - Sharks 14

The Raiders came from behind to spoil Paul Gallen's farewell, defeating the Sharks by a point at PointsBet Stadium. With the home crowd behind them the Sharks had all the momentum and ran in three first-half tries to lead 12-0 at the break. Three missed conversions again came back to haunt the Sharks though as Canberra levelled the scores in the second half with tries to Nicoll-Klokstad and Cotric. A crazy finish to the game saw five field goals in the final 20 minutes, with Sezer and Chad Townsend going shot for shot, kicking two each in regular time before Sezer's third field goal was enough to put the Sharks away in golden point.

Round 25: Warriors 24 - Raiders 20

With a top-four spot guaranteed the Raiders chose to rest stars Nicoll-Klokstad, Bateman, Rapana and Soliola before the finals and the Warriors made them pay for it, winning a close game 24-20. The match was tight and riddled with penalties. Canberra thought they had it won until a try in the last five minutes to Blake Green won the match.

Finals week 1: Raiders 12 - Storm 10

The Raiders became the first team to beat Melbourne twice in the same season on their home turf since the Bulldogs did it in 2014, shocking everyone to advance to the preliminary finals. It was a match filled with penalties and plenty of drama. Leilua was hit in the eye by a fireworks shell before kick-off and was unable to start the match, with winger Simonsson getting a surprise start and scoring the first try after three minutes to get the Raiders off to a dream start. The Storm fought back to lead 10-6 but with three minutes left on the clock, Josh Addo-Car dropped the ball 10 metres out from his own line and the Raiders pounced, with Bateman running away to score the match-winner and take the Raiders one step closer to their first grand final since 1994.

Preliminary Final: Raiders 16 - Rabbitohs 10

The Raiders progressed to their first grand final in 25 years after a thrilling win over the Rabbitohs in front of a record 26,567 crowd at GIO Stadium. Hodgson was instrumental in the win, setting up Canberra's first try with a grubber kick and making a try-saving tackle on Cody walker, stripping the ball as he dived over the line. Dane Gagai scored the Rabbitohs' first try to level the scores at 6-6 at the break before Wighton scored an amazing try as he collected the scraps off an Sezer bomb, toed the ball ahead and scored in the corner. Papalii sealed the win when he crashed his way through three defenders to score before Campbell Graham scored a late try in the 79th minute to give Souths a glimmer of hope, but the Bunnies ran out of time and the Raiders advanced to the grand final.

Tickets for the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final 2019 are now on sale to the general public.

Tickets are available through Ticketek and nrl.com/tickets.