Canberra fans erupt as Raiders achieve 25-year NRL first

Chris Young
Sports Reporter

The Green Machine was revved up like never before after the Canberra Raiders won through to their first NRL grand final since 1994.

Their 16-10 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs was a punishing, pulsating affair capped by a brilliant Josh Papalii try that sealed the game.

Though it was not without some controversy, the Raiders’ win was underscored by their terrific defence, which held firm despite the Rabbitohs having the run of the play for long stretches of the second half.

Josh Papalii of the Raiders celebrates scoring a try during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at GIO Stadium on September 27, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Some nerves would have filtered through the GIO Stadium crowd when Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was sin-binned with just over 10 minutes to play for a professional foul, but Papalii burst through the Souths defence not long after.

Though there will certainly be talking points for the Raiders during the week, Canberra fans on social media were determined to worry about that later - instead enjoying the thrill of seeing their team once again in a grand final.

Hodgson heroics shine through

Sam Burgess perhaps said it best during the week.

"When you shake their hand, you've got to check you've got all five fingers after," Burgess said of fellow Englishmen Josh Hodgson and John Bateman.

And it took Hodgson just 14 minutes to produce his first theft in Canberra's pulsating preliminary final triumph over South Sydney at GIO Stadium on Friday.

Just like they had all season, two Raiders defenders dropped off for Hodgson to wrestle possession free, this time Ethan Lowe their victim.

One minute later Hodgson chased his own grubber and punched the ball out of Corey Allan's hands to effectively set the scene for the opening try for Jarrod Croker.

Eleven minutes after that, the Raiders hooker stripped the ball from Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker, preventing a certain four-pointer.

He appeared to jar his shoulder when making the tackle, but played on to help ensure Canberra are a win away from their first premiership since 1994.

Hodgson's try-saver was symbolic of a courageous defensive effort.

It was one of three times the Raiders denied the Rabbitohs in the first half, including a miracle stop of a barging Junior Tatola just before the break.

Hodgson wasn't alone in stripping South Sydney of their grand final dream.

With their backs to the wall in the second half, having defending four of five sets, teammate Sia Soliola also pinched a ball to give his team some respite.

Still, the Rabbitohs had a look at stealing victory from the jaws of defeat when they had another four straight looks at Canberra's tryline.

And again they had a chance when Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad went to the sin bin for a professional foul on Adam Reynolds in the 70th minute.

But, in front of a Raiders record crowd of 26,567, Canberra held on for one of their most famous victories in club history.

And no one can take that away from them.