Everything was going perfectly for the Canberra Raiders. But then disaster struck in the form of a potentially season-ending knee injury for Ryan Sutton.
The popular Englishman limped from the field after twisting his knee awkwardly in a tackle just before half-time.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said it was a medial ligament, but he was unsure whether he'd injured his anterior cruciate as well - with scans to show the full extent of the injury and whether he'd be able to return for the finals.
Otherwise, Stuart was delighted with the 38-28 victory over the Cronulla Sharks at Kogarah on Saturday.
It kept their top-four hopes alive - at least until the end of the Parramatta Eels-Wests Tigers game that followed later that night, with an Eels win denying the Green Machine a second chance.
"It looks like a high-grade MCL. He just can't take a trick the poor bugger," Stuart said.
"He's had a wonderful year. After missing out on the big games last year he was all ready to go for our players.
"That's the part of coaching and footy I really hate - seeing the disappointment in a bloke you really care for and really like. He's a great guy ... it's cruel the game at times."
The Raiders will host the Sharks in an elimination final next weekend.
Stuart's young guns - which contained three NRL debutants and one Raiders - were brilliant as he rested nine regulars for the final round.
Led expertly by acting captain Sam Williams, with hooker Tom Starling also putting in a brilliant shift.
Williams hadn't played a game of rugby league since March due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the NSW Cup, but he looked like he hadn't missed a beat in his first - and possibly only - NRL game of the season.
The Raiders halfback set up a try and scored one himself, while Starling was pulling the strings from dummy half - scoring one and setting up three.
"He played well, Tom. He showed his improvement and the only way you do that is by continually playing," Stuart said.
"Tommy was instrumental in playing 80 minutes for us.
"We had to be very strategic in how we found minutes in the middle tonight, especially when Ryan went off."
Canberra prop Dunamis Lui was also brilliant, running for 165 metres and scoring the opening try of the game in just the fourth minute.
Returning Raiders veteran Sia Soliola got through unscathed in his return from a facial fracture - amassing 158m himself.
The Sharks responded immediately to Lui's opener - although Raiders winger Nick Cotric almost pulled off a brilliant one-on-one try-saving tackle, but Cronulla winger Ronaldo Mulitalo was able to get the ball down.
There might need to be some work done on Kogarah to ensure the safety of the venue, with Raiders centre Harley Smith-Shields crashing into the fence - which in some parts of the ground is only a metre or two from the playing field.
"Geez it's dangerous isn't it. We were only just talking about it before the game," NRL legend Steve Roach said on the Fox Sports commentary.
But Smith-Shields was able to play on and scored a freakish try in the second half when Sharks acting captain Wade Graham kicked a short goal-line drop-out straight to the Canberra centre for what proved to be the sealer.
Williams showed no rustiness when he grubbered for Cotric to score in the corner.
Starling darted out of dummy half to cap off a move he started by swooping on a loose ball near his own tryline.
He then show-and-goed his way through the middle of the Sharks before kicking ahead for his captain to run onto to put a try next to "C" by his name.
Sharks second-rower Briton Nikora scored the first of his brace when he scored from a Connor Tracey kick to make it 24-10 at half-time - with Sutton hurting his knee in the dying seconds.
Starling putting Kai O'Donnell over for his maiden NRL try as the Green Machine again exposed the Sharks' soft middle.
A try on Matt Frawley's debut seemed to have wrapped things up, but tries to Graham and Bryson Goodwin brought the home side back into it.
When Raiders second-rower Corey Harawira-Naera was sin-binned for a professional foul with five minutes remaining it set up an exciting finish after Smith-Shields' try and Nikora's second.
"I was very happy for the young blokes," Stuart said.
"They started to get loose at the end because we have so many players that haven't played, so many players making their debuts.
"I was just so happy for them they didn't get too loose and [the Sharks] came home and got us because I just wanted them to savour that moment and enjoy their debuts, their first games.
"I was more emotionally attached that I wanted the young blokes to win for them more so than anything else."
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA RAIDERS 38 (Dunamis Lui, Nick Cotric, Tom Starling, Sam Williams, Kai O'Donnell, Matt Frawley, Harley Smith-Shields tries; Williams 5 goals) bt CRONULLA SHARKS 28 (Briton Nikora 2, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Wade Graham, Bryson Goodwin tries; Mawene Hiroti 3 goals) at Kogarah. Referee: Ashley Klein.