Raiders knock Sharks out of NRL playoffs
Canberra will play South Sydney in a sudden-death semi-final after scoring four late tries to bury a determined Cronulla 34-16 in Sunday's NRL elimination final at Canberra Stadium.
The Raiders were clinging to an 18-16 lead with 13 minutes to go before they finished with a flurry, their late spurt including a double to former Shark Blake Ferguson as they ended Cronulla's season in a brilliant contest.
It was a spirited performance form the Sharks, who played without star pivot Todd Carney for a large period after he went off with an achilles injury, which he carried into the game, eight minutes into the second stanza.
Ricky Leutele - replacing the suspended Ben Pomeroy - opened the scoring and it was all the Sharks before a fortuitous Josh Dugan kick was missed by fullback Isaac Gordon, the Raiders earning their first crack at Cronulla's line 15 minutes into the contest.
Seven minutes later and they were 10-6 leaders thanks to a Sandor Earl double - the first off a brilliant Josh McCrone long ball before Jarrod Croker showed brilliant vision to kick for his unmarked winger two minutes later.
Dominating play but not the scoreboard, Canberra turned up the defensive heat with several bullish tackles - their endeavours rewarded when a spilled ball presented the home side with one final shot before halftime, a Shaun Berrigan offload setting up Josh Papalli's four-pointer.
Cronulla showed plenty of intent after the break, and as Carney limped off, they got themselves back in the game as Wade Graham reduced the deficit to four.
Their momentum was curbed when Paul Gallen lost the ball as he went to play it just after restart, before the video referee did his bit when he denied Jeff Robson a try for a Jeremy Smith obstruction.
Smith was again the transgressor when a high tackle on Sam Williams resulted in Croker adding a penalty to take the lead out to a converted try, but Cronulla weren't done with yet as Nathan Stapleton crossed out wide off what appeared an obvious forward pass from Colin Best.
Stapleton missed the conversion to leave the Sharks trailing by two with 20 minutes to go - the Raiders again kicking free when Ferguson all but buried his former club when he reeled in a Williams bomb to score 13 minutes from time.
With Croker having left the field Dugan missed a simple conversion, but Cronulla shot themselves in the foot when Stapleton kicked out on the full from the restart.
Glen Buttriss scooted from dummy half to seal the result before Ferguson completed his double five minutes from fulltime.