The Raiders are flying ahead of their NRL finals return by running rings around the Wests Tigers, setting a club winning record, earning a home semi-final and Joey Leilua producing one of the most magical moments of the year
Here are all the talking points from the Raiders' win at Leichhardt Oval and for the finals series.
HOME FINAL TIME AGAINST THE SHARKS
Did anyone predict at the start of the year that the Raiders would finish second on the ladder? It was a pipe-dream at the start of the year but it will become a reality on Saturday night when the Raiders host the Cronulla Sharks in the first week of the finals. Their win against the Tigers lifted them to second on the ladder and their best end-of-year ranking since 1995. Raiders officials are expecting a sell-out crowd with the potential of the ACT government needing to move temporary seats to Canberra Stadium. The Raiders have a double chance in the finals and will still be in the premiership race even if they lose to Cronulla. But a win will send them into a preliminary final and put them just 160 minutes away from what would be a shock premiership. The other bonus of finishing second is that the Raiders will avoid the Melbourne Storm and defending premier North Queensland until either a preliminary final or grand final. The Sharks won't be easybeats. In fact, they've won their last three matches in Canberra and haven't lost in the capital since 2012. Tickets will go on sale to members on Monday before the general public can snap up seats on Tuesday. The Viking Clap will return and the Raiders under-20s will play the curtain-raiser before the 5.30pm kick-off.
TIME FOR NRL CONSISTENCY
Raiders half Aidan Sezer was denied a second-half try because the NRL bunker ruled the Tigers' defence was obstructed in the lead-up play. In the scheme of things, it barely caused a ripple. The Raiders were already light years ahead of the Tigers and the decision didn't have an impact on the result. But the problem will come if premiership hopes are on the line in a tight game and the same decision is made. There's no way the Tigers' defence was obstructed and they were never going to get to Sezer. Maybe the Raiders' lead made it an easy decision for the bunker. But in a finals campaign that could be the difference between lifting the trophy or not.
JACK WIGHTON'S NERVOUS WAIT
The Raiders have already shown this year that they can overcome adversity and fullback Jack Wighton will find out on Monday if he faces suspension for an alleged shoulder charge against the Tigers. Wighton collided with former Raider Joel Edwards in the middle of the field and Wighton was put on report. It appeared Wighton had his hands up for an attempted tackle and his head is said to have copped the brunt of the force. Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker said referee Jared Maxwell agreed that it looked worse given both players were running at full speed. And after seeing Michael Ennis and a number of other players let off for similar incidents, it's hard to see the NRL pulling a rabbit out of its hat to suspend Wighton.
JOSH HODGSON MASTER-CLASS
Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson showed everyone why he's considered one of the best No. 9s in the NRL with a sublime first-half display to destroy the Tigers. Hodgson will be a contender for the NRL's most prestigious individual prize, the Dally M Medal, despite being docked three votes after being suspended for one week. Hodgson set up two first-half tries before bamboozling the Tigers' defence to score himself before half-time. His silky skills at the base of the ruck are a major driving force to Canberra's rise as a genuine premiership threat. The Raiders led 30-4 at half-time and destroyed the Tigers' hopes of sneaking into the top eight. Hodgson's absence was noticeable when he didn't play three weeks ago, but the Raiders found a way to win. The suspension for a grapple tackle against Melbourne could be a blessing in disguise for Canberra. The 26-year-old has played all but one game for the Raiders since arriving in Canberra last year, and his suspension could give him the fresh legs required for a run to the grand final.
JOEY LEILUA THE MAGICIAN
Josh Hodgson was the architect of a first-half demolition, but Joey Leilua's moment of absolute brilliance will dominate video replays for the rest of this week. With the Raiders leading 6-0, Leilua pounced on a wayward bouncing ball to turn defence into attack on the Tigers' defensive 30m line. What happened next had to be seen to be believed. Leilua, once criticised for not using all of his potential, held off one defender with his left hand and then started to spin. Somehow he got the ball free and flicked it around his back, and the defender's back, to find Jordan Rapana on the wing, who raced away to score his 19th try of the year. Leilua simply stood with arms in the air as Rapana dotted down. It's that sort of play that makes the Raiders one of the most exciting teams to watch and everything is clicking at the right time.
IS BLAKE AUSTIN ANY CHANCE?
Blake Austin was kicking a ball around Leichhardt Oval with his kids after the Raiders cruised to a comfortable win, but don't expect him to suit up for week one of the finals. Austin remains a chance to play a role in the finals but it's unlikely he'll be on the field against the Sharks given he's still recovering from having two screws put in his hand to repair broken bones. Junior Paulo is a better chance of playing after being given an extra week to soothe his bumps and bruises. There are several Raiders nursing corks and knocks, but none serious enough to affect team selection. Coach Ricky Stuart took off Josh Hodgson, Jordan Rapana and Shannon Boyd near the end of the game to start finals preparation.
WINNING RECORD SPOILS ROBBIE FARAH'S FAREWELL
The Tigers farewelled legend Robbie Farah at half-time of their last regular-season game after a drawn-out saga between the the NSW State of Origin hooker and the club. The crowd chanted his name as he walked around Leichhardt Oval for the last time as a Tiger, but it wasn't enough to inspire a Tigers charge to the play-offs. The Raiders were the party-poopers on a perfect Sunday afternoon and set a Canberra record for the most consecutive wins in a single season in the club's history. The Raiders won their last 10 games of the regular season. They also scored 688 points this year, eclipsing the previous record of 677 set in 1994. No other team in Green Machine history has managed to win as many games in a row or score as many points. It says a lot about the current squad given the Raiders boasted an all-star roster in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Steve Walters and Bradley Clyde. The challenge now is to match the achievements of those legends by winning a premiership. Can they do it? Why not.