Ricky Stuart praised Canberra's resilience after Jack Wighton helped them pull off the great escape and end Cronulla's season with a dramatic 32-20 win at GIO Stadium.
Wighton put on two of the biggest plays of the Raiders' year to set up a grand final rematch with the Sydney Roosters next week, averting a shock upset in the process.
Halves partner George Williams also bagged a double, as the Raiders went from 14-6 down just before the break to 32-14 leaders late in the second half.
But the comeback was not without controversy, with the NRL forced to defend a call in the lead up to the Wighton try that gave the Raiders the lead.
Sharks captain Wade Graham was fuming after Wighton took a quick tap as he tried to launch a challenge, the Raiders man running 25 metres to score.
The NRL later confirmed Graham was unable to challenge the play as it was a discretionary call, but the Sharks skipper remained furious his pleas had been ignored.
Regardless, that flashpoint should not take away from the Raiders' resilience in a year where they have time and time again overcome adversity.
Faced with eight unavailabilities in their forward pack at one stage, and four players out from the mid-point of a season where they spent weeks on the road, the Raiders have battled hard for their place at the sharp end of the season.
Just 21 per cent of the ball was played in their attacking half in the opening 40 minutes, but they somehow only trailed 14-10 at the break courtesy of a 60-metre Williams intercept try.
Then Wighton entered the equation.
He helped the Raiders to a 16-14 lead with that quick tap that caught the Sharks out and enraged Graham, before scoring again moments later when he juggled a Williams kick and got the ball down.
By the time Williams got his second of the night when he charged over in the middle, the game was as good as done before Elliott Whitehead finished the job.
"A lot of people talk the talk, we've got a few values and standards that privately we want to execute," Stuart said.
"And these boys do. They are a very tough group.
"It's not a 'poor us' thing, but what they have got through this year in regards to the travel, schedule and injuries they have had, I was so proud of them coming fifth.
"A lot of boys have taken on extra responsibility this year and really made men of themselves."
Earlier, Cronulla looked nothing like the side that had become the first in 25 years to reach the finals without beating a top-eight team.
Chad Townsend and Connor Tracey were both livewires early in attack, while Ronaldo Mulitalo and Blayke Brailey both scored in the space of eight minutes after Canberra's Joseph Tapine got the game's first.
However, the Sharks' attack stalled when Brailey left the field with a syndesmosis injury suffered scoring his try under the posts following a Whitehead error.
Their only points from there came via a Sione Katoa intercept in the dying minutes, as their season spiralled out of control after Wighton's quick tap.
"He (Wighton) had more game smarts than us. We had our backs turned and he scored the try," coach John Morris said.
"We were a little bit rattled there.
"We spoke before the game about winning all the moments today and that was a moment we had to make sure didn't lead to too many points."