The Canberra Raiders have booked their place in a preliminary final with a stunning 12-10 victory over the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park.
In a game with seemingly endless twists and turns, a late turnover allowed Joey Leilua to set up John Bateman for an equalising try with a tick over three minutes to play.
It was a poetic turn in an already chaotic match, considering Leilua had to be replaced by Bailey Simonssen moments before the game started, after the Raiders’ center was struck by a stray fragment of a firework from a pyrotechnical display the players ran through as they entered the field of play.
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After milking the clock on the conversion, the Storm had just over 60 seconds to find an answer.
When Suliasi Vunivalu managed to hold on to a high ball on the restart, it looked as though the Storm would have a chance to pull off an unlikely comeback.
But the touch judge controversially ruled that Vunivalu had touched the sidelines when he brought the ball down - leaving Storm fans outraged.
Once again poor officiating impacting on a great game. #NRLStormRaiders— Stephen Rodgers (@Steve_Rodgers) September 14, 2019
And with all the video technology they still can't correct a touch judge howler?? #nrlstormraiders— Steve Hart (@SteveHart10News) September 14, 2019
Vunivalu almost murdered the touch judge with his eyes #NRLStormRaiders— Jack Brady (@JackBraydes) September 14, 2019
Fox League commentator Braith Anasta was left aghast by the call.
“That’s awful. They have to overturn it,” he said.
“That’s diabolical. It’s one of the greatest stuff-ups I’ve ever seen, he’s a metre away from that.”
The Raiders will now have next weekend off before hosting their preliminary final while the Storm will host the winner of Sunday's Parramatta-Brisbane elimination final to keep their season alive.
Melbourne looked like they had done enough to take the win but the Raiders never stopped coming.
Winger Josh Addo-Carr spilt the ball in a tackle which then found its way on to Bateman for the match-winner.
Win potentially costly for Raiders
Two Raiders were put on report in the first half - winger Jordan Rapana for a lifting tackle on Cameron Munster and lock Joe Tapine for a chicken wing tackle on Brandon Smith.
They also lost winger Nick Cotric for the match in the 20th minute after he suffered a bloody head knock.
But the gutsy Raiders, who came from an 18-0 deficit in round 22 to upset Melbourne, still managed to take a 6-2 lead into halftime.
After a slew of errors and penalties in the first half, Melbourne looked more like themselves after the break and hit the front three minutes in.
Halfback Jahrome Hughes put up a high ball for Vunivalu to score their first try.
With a penalty either side Melbourne were out to a 10-6 lead which against most teams would be enough but the Raiders weren't to be denied.