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The South Pacific Raiders continued their recent change of fortune by knocking the defending champions, the Kia Toa Tigers, out of the competition as they gained entry to the grand final with a 20-18 victory.
The Raiders opened the scoring early in the first half with a try that put the Tigers on the back foot. The Tigers hit back with two tries of their own, after sustained periods of attack in which the Raiders' defensive line was repeatedly tested.
One of the major threats to the Raiders' defence was centre Shane Unahi, who repeatedly stormed through the defensive line. Unahi found support in second rower Apii Taia, whose powerful running and defensive presence were difficult for the Raiders to compete with.
The rest of the first half was challenging for both sides and multiple opportunities to score went begging.
The score at halftime was 12-6 to the Tigers, and momentum was also on their side after the Raiders spent the majority of the half defending their own tryline.
The Tigers' pathway to the final seemed to be paved after they scored first in the second half to extend their lead to 18-6.
The Raiders' attack sharpened in response to the constant barrage they had received and some long-range breaks from their deadly backs allowed them to set a platform near the Tigers line to attack from. Chris Talauta and Steven Campbell-Paniona were among the line breaks, as both men lined up defenders to burst through before scarpering down the field towards the tryline.
Two tries in relatively quick succession allowed the Raiders to close the gap to within four points, but when the Tigers were given the scrum feed on their 20m line with just under a minute on the clock, it appeared their chances had faded.
That was until they managed to push the Tigers forwards back and turn over possession in the scrum, before centre Chris Talauta scored.
Just as in their semifinal against University, the Raiders scored after last play had been called, showing their desperation to win was present until the very end. The scores were level until Louis Tili slotted the conversion to give the Raiders a two-point lead andthe win.
It puts the Raiders in their first grand final since they won the competition in 2015, which, coincidentally, was the last time the Tigers did not make it to the final hurdle, after winning the 2016 and 17 premierships.