Raiders hold off Panthers to set up Storm clash
Canberra Raiders set up an NRL Preliminary Finals showdown with Melbourne Storm after seeing off Penrith Panthers 22-12 on Saturday.
The Raiders had lost their qualifier against Cronulla Sharks 16-14 last week, but made the most of their second chance to reach the Preliminary Finals for the first time since 2004.
Blake Austin - playing despite having 16 screws in a broken left hand - opened the scoring at GIO Stadium and the lead was doubled before half-time when Jordan Rapana claimed his 22nd try of the season, equalling the Raiders record.
After Jarrod Croker, who finished with 14 points, made it 18-0 the Panthers threatened a comeback with two quick-fire scores midway through the second half.
But two Croker penalties in the final 10 minutes saw the Raiders through to a meeting with minor premiers Storm at AAMI Park next Saturday.
The Raiders dominated the opening period, and broke through in the 12th minute when a stunning step and dummy from Austin left two defenders on their backsides as the stand-off dived over.
And they took a 12-0 lead into the interval as Joey Leilua and Rapana provided further evidence of their devastating combination play, the former kicking through for the wing to dot down.
That advantage was swiftly extended following the resumption as Croker just managed to retain control long enough to touch down in the left corner before converting his own score.
The Panthers finally got on the board just prior to the hour when Matt Moylan flung a superb pass out wide for Tyrone Peachey to cross on the left, and they moved to within one score six minutes later with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak's excellent one-handed finish on the opposite wing.
But the visitors' momentum was checked somewhat when James Fisher-Harris was penalised for a high shot on Aidan Sezer and Croker added a simple two points, succeeding again with the last kick of the game to seal victory.