Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton buried last year’s grand final demons by leading Canberra to a gripping 22-18 defeat of Sydney Roosters that ended the bid by the premiers' hopes of a three-peat.
Wighton, who was at the centre of controversial six-again call that overshadowed the Roosters' grand final defeat of the Raiders, scored the match-winning try 11 minutes from full-time to put the Green Machine within one win of another decider.
Prop Josh Papalii laid the platform for the win by scoring an early try and setting up another in a dominant performance that confirmed his standing as the game’s best prop, while fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad produced three try-saving efforts as Canberra hung on.
“It always comes down to moments of desperation and brilliance," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.
“I’m proud of our players and how they have handled this season. They are more than a team.
Stuart sees his men as 'more than just a team'
"Where we have got to today, no one gave us a chance outside of our own group and I remember saying in this room after the last time we beat the Roosters here that no one has given us an opportunity to show what is underneath the jumper.
"Win or lose next week we have had an unbelievable season and we are in there punching again."
The Raiders must now overcome Melbourne for a place in the grand final, while the Roosters bow out after back-to-back defeats by Canberra and Penrith, which followed a 60-8 thrashing by South Sydney in the last round of the regular season.
The match was the 306th and last for Roosters stalwart Mitch Aubusson, while it may also have been the farewell NRL appearance of Sonny Bill Williams, who set up the last try for James Tedesco just five minutes from full-time.
Match: Roosters v Raiders
Finals Week 2 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Stuart made late changes by promoting hooker Siliva Havili and Hudson Young to the starting line-up in place of Tom Starling and Iosia Soliola, and the move paid almost immediate dividends when Papalii scored in the fourth minute.
Papalii crashed his way over the line off a dummy-half pass from Havili and Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary was sent reeling before being taken from the field for a HIA.
With veteran utility Aubusson starting in the second row in place of Angus Crichton, the Roosters had no backs on the interchange so centre Joey Manu was forced to shift to five-eighth and he almost scored only to lose the ball reaching out to ground it.
The Raiders regained control and halfback George Williams finished a brilliant team try after Papalii offloaded to second-rower John Bateman, who passed outside to Nicoll-Klokstad and he turned the ball inside to Jordan Rapana before the English halfback crossed in the 18th minute.
Papalii close to the line, you know what happens next
Roosters lock Isaac Liu stopped the scoring from becoming a one-way procession when he held Havili up over the try-line but his team-mates were unable to prevent Joseph Tapine from getting the next try in the 22nd minute.
The Canberra lock looked like Benji Marshall or Shaun Johnson as he stepped and fended his way past three defenders – including Keary twice – to score after picking up a loose pass 20 metres out from the Roosters line to give the Raiders a 16-0 lead.
"I don't think I have ever seen a better try by a forward," Stuart said.
"It came at at a very crucual time of the game. I was very happy for Joey to be able to celebrate his 100th game for the club with a finals win like that."
Tapine monsters the Roosters
The Roosters' bid for a three-peat appeared to be over when Rapana started and finished a stunning movement after racing down the sideline and grubbering ahead to avoid being bundled into touch before diving to receive a pass from Starling and landing in the in-goal.
However, replays showed that Rapana had jumped from outside the field of play and the door was kept slightly ajar for the Roosters, despite losing prop Siosiua Taukeiaho with a knee injury.
Nicoll-Klokstad saved what appeared to be a certain try when he tackled Brett Morris into touch but the Raiders had no answer for the individual brilliance of Josh Morris, who raced down the touchline and kicked in-field for fullback James Tedesco to catch the ball and score untouched in the 36th minute.
The Raiders started the second half as they had the first but Wighton was disallowed a try in the 47th minute because of an obstruction by Jarrod Croker.
The Canberra captain was upset about not getting the same call when Manu scored 10 minutes later after picking up a loose ball and the match officials ruled that Croker had an opportunity to tackle his Roosters opposite despite Aubusson stopping in the defensive line.
Nicoll-Klokstad then came up with the most crucual tackle of the night when he collared Josh Morris over the sideline as the Roosters centre set sail for a try that would put his side in front for the first time.
Classy finish as Raiders and Roosters farewell Aubusson
Wighton appeared to have sealed the win for Canberra in the 69th minute when he dived on a Williams grubber that bounced awkwardly for Tedesco in the Roosters in-goal but the premiers – and Sonny Bill Williams – weren’t finished.
Receiving a pass from Tedesco near the Raiders line, Williams offloaded to Sitili Tupouniua and the interchange forward simply gave the ball to his star fullback for a 75th minute try to set up a gripping finish.