Proud coach Ricky Stuart says Canberra have "turned the corner" and are NRL finals bound after defying yet more injuries and a never-say-die Parramatta to grind out a 12-10 win at the Gold Coast on Thursday night.
Desperate to stay in the top eight mix, the Raiders dug deep to overcome the loss of enforcer Josh Papalii (concussion) and fellow forward Ryan Sutton (sternum) to clinch their third win in a row.
The Raiders simply refused to lose after the Eels threatened to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the dying seconds.
Parramatta cut the deficit to just two points when Maika Sivo crashed over off a Jake Arthur kick in the 76th minute, but Clint Gutherson missed the sideline conversion.
Sivo then had another crack at the line seconds from full-time but outstanding Raiders replacement fullback Jordan Rapana somehow bundled the hulking Fijian into touch to seal a gutsy win with help from Harley Smith-Shields.
Stuart admitted he had some anxious moments as the bunker determined whether Rapana's hip bump was legal as Sivo lay prone with blood coming from a cut above his eye.
But in the end the officials were satisfied there was no foul play as the Raiders (8-10) celebrated a famous win.
Match: Eels v Raiders
Round 19 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
"They kept looking at it but there was no way it was a foul. He hit him with his hip," Stuart said.
"Just for Rappa to be there was an extraordinary play.
"[But] I am very proud of the effort. That has always been in the jumper, that type of grit, that type of want to win.
"Some games it is missing and you have to work hard as a coach to get it, that's why I get upset when we lose because I know what these guys have got under the jumper.
"It's why I love coaching them – wins like that are pure grit and want."
After a horror start to the season, Stuart believed the Raiders could now start planning a finals tilt.
"We have turned the corner but it is not through fluke, it is through hard work," he said.
"This time of year we need to up the intensity in regards to the playoffs.
"We believe we will be in the playoffs. We believe we are good enough to be in the playoffs.
"We want to be the team that is here the longest in terms of this hub – when you see that out there you would believe me.
"As long as we don't get any more bad luck. Luck in life is everything.
"They never cease to amaze me these blokes. Over the last two years now we have been hit with injuries and luck that we can't control but we keep getting back up, and keep punching."
Gritty Green Machine: Stuart immensely proud of Raiders
Queensland prop Papalii failed an HIA after going off in the 34th minute, further depleting a Raiders outfit that were without playmaker Jack Wighton (ribs), Elliott Whitehead (shoulder) and exciting fullback Xavier Savage (shoulder).
Papalii came off second best in his own tackle, face planting on the ground before the dazed forward was escorted off the ground.
Sutton (sternum) was lost in the 28th minute.
But the wounded Raiders held their nerve to knock over a top four side for the first time this season in a huge boost to their finals hopes.
In contrast, the top four plans of Parramatta (13-5) have taken a hit as they look to regroup ahead of a tough run home.
Eels strewn everywhere and Rapana knows what to do
The return of playmaker Mitch Moses (back) can't come soon enough for the Eels who take on Sydney Roosters, South Sydney, Manly, North Queensland, Melbourne and Penrith to finish their season.
Eels coach Brad Arthur was left deflated after coming so close to celebrating a win, but wouldn't be drawn on Rapana's contact on Sivo.
Arthur provides update on Moses
"It shouldn't have come down to that but I would have to look at it again," he said.
"Maika is pretty banged up, he got hit on the eye, got a cut there – I don't know.
"It was a bash up and I think they probably beat us in the physical contest in the end – they had a bit more intent.
"We had plenty of ball and opportunity but we just didn't win any of the collision – we have to be better in the physicality which is usually one of our strengths."
After a 0-0 half-time deadlock, the Raiders finally cracked the Eels' line when Josh Hodgson and Sam Williams combined to send Corey Harawira-Naera over in the 45th minute, running over the top of Jake Arthur.
Rapana did it all himself eight minutes later, darting out of dummy half to score in what appeared to be hammer blow to the Eels' hopes.
Indeed Parramatta needed something special to crack the Raiders' wall of defence.
Enter Blake Ferguson.
Ferguson back in the NRL and setting up spectacular tries
The 31-year-old skittled two defenders in a kick return before pinning the ears back and booting the ball ahead for five-eighth Dylan Brown to score in the 56th minute, capping a stunning 80m effort.
Off contract and seemingly with his career on the line, Ferguson played like a man possessed in his first game in six weeks after being sidelined over defensive concerns.
There was no prize for guessing what Ferguson had been working on while in NRL exile, pulling off some brutal hits in defence but it was his spark in attack that threatened to turn the match on its ear.