Penrith have set up a mouth-watering semi-final shootout with Canberra after becoming the sixth and final team to survive the first week of the NRL finals.
The Panthers overcame some early jitters against Canterbury on Sunday before putting the Bulldogs to the sword with a four-try second half to claim a 28-12 elimination final win.
They now move on to a date next Saturday at GIO Stadium with a wounded Raiders outfit that bombed a 12-0 lead late against Cronulla on Saturday night.
In front of a sellout crowd, Canberra dominated for most of the match but lost their way following an ankle injury to star Josh Hodgson, eventually falling 16-14 on a 75th minute penalty goal.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart admitted Hodgson is doubtful of recovering in time to take on the Panthers, while five-eighth Blake Austin is also still on the mend from hand surgery.
“Canberra are obviously a massive task,” Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said post-game.
“They’ll be terribly stung by what happened last night I imagine. We’ll enjoy this one tonight and rehab up and get ready for next Saturday.”
The Sharks bravely fought back without injured skipper Paul Gallen and concussed vice-captain Wade Graham to secure a week off and are now one win away from a grand final berth.
They await the winner of the other semi-final, a rematch of last year’s famous grand final, between North Queensland and Brisbane in Townsville.
The Cowboys’ premiership defence is now on a knife’s edge after they were outclassed 16-10 in Saturday’s qualifying final defeat in Melbourne.
The Storm also get to put up their feet for a week as they wait to host the victor of the Penrith-Canberra semi-final the following week.
The Broncos booked a local derby semi-final with a controversial 44-28 defeat of Gold Coast in Brisbane on Friday, with several contentious refereeing decisions drawing the ire of Titans coach Neil Henry.
The combined 72-point scoreline was the equal-highest total points in an NRL final.