Canberra are one win away from a second straight grand final after they extracted revenge on the Sydney Roosters and ended the defending premiers’ shot at an NRL three-peat.
In one of their best performances of the year, the Raiders shot out of the blocks to lead 16-0 after 23 minutes before holding out the fast-finishing two-time defending premiers 22-18.
The Raiders’ victory avenged last year’s controversial grand final loss and sets up a grand final qualifier with Melbourne next Friday at Suncorp Stadium.
Josh Papalii was again immense for the Raiders, as Canberra won the battle of the middle with Hudson Young and Joseph Tapine both massive.
Fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was also superb, with two crucial try-saves on Brett and Josh Morris to halt the Roosters’ charge.
His tackle on Josh was one of the most important moments of the match, sprinting across to put him into touch with the Roosters down 16-12.
“It was a big tackle. A huge tackle,” coach Ricky Stuart said.
“They’re the moments you remember that are really important in big games. It always comes down to moments of desperation and brilliance.
“Where we’ve got to today, no one gave us a chance but our own.”
Moments later the Raiders had their lead back out to 10, as James Tedesco lost his feet trying to field a George Williams kick and Jack Wighton scored.
But even then the Roosters wouldn’t let up in front of 18,110 fans at the SCG.
They had the margin back to four with five minutes to play when Sonny Bill Williams and Sitili Tupouniua combined to put Tedesco over.
And they looked as if they had the Raiders in all sorts of trouble in the dying minutes, only for Tedesco to drop a ball 30 metres out with Canberra short on numbers.
It signalled a dogged end to the Roosters’ back-to-back title defence, having been at the top of their game for three years before slipping over the past fortnight.
“They were a team out of form but trying hard,” coach Trent Robinson said.
“I’m really proud of where we are as a club.
“But that’s not acceptable to go out in week two.
“Not because you don’t go on, but because you have to be good enough to play your footy at the end of the year.”
Papalii had earlier started the run for the Raiders when he crashed over for the first try from close range, making the most of a piggyback penalty.
The Raiders forward was also instrumental in their next.
He kick-started a centre-field movement with an offload for John Bateman before Jordan Rapana put George Williams over.
And the game looked all but over when Tapine pushed his way through five defenders from close to the line to make it 16-0.
But it was then the Roosters’ comeback started, even after losing Sio Siua Taukeiaho to a knee injury.
Tedesco was the first to cross after Luke Keary put Josh Morris away and he kicked back on the fly for his fullback just before the break.
Joey Manu also provided plenty of spark, denied once after break for a double movement before convincing the bunker moments later.
Looming as a threat all night, he picked up a loose ball from 25 metres out and found the line, despite a desperate last effort from Jarrod Croker.
But it was too little too late, ending Mitchell Aubusson’s 306-game career and the Roosters’ shot at the first three-peat of the NRL era.