The hard work has only just begun for Canberra, who find themselves inside the NRL’s top four deep into the season for the first time in more than a decade.
The Raiders overtook Canterbury on the premiership ladder with a 26-22 golden point win over the Warriors on Saturday.
They had held a comfortable 22-4 lead with 10 minutes to go, but let in three late tries to set up a grandstand finish in front of 9,741 fans at GIO Stadium.
Skipper Jarrod Croker scored the match-winning try in extra time – his third of the game – to seal a fourth consecutive win.
While unhappy with the final quarter, coach Ricky Stuart was pleased to walk away with the victory.
“It’s nice to get two points and be able to learn off some areas of the game that will be very easily fixed,” he said.
Not since 2003 have the Green Machine been placed so high so late in the season, with six games remaining.
Stuart said a lot of hard work and planning had gone into getting them into this position but stressed the importance of keeping a lid on expectations.
“We don’t need to look at the table until round 26,” he said.
“There’s no more excitement in there about us being where we are on the table than where we were two or three weeks ago. The only excitement I’ve got is I think the team’s improving.
“We’re not going to let the hype grow bigger because this competition is so tight and competitive.”
For the Warriors, the defeat keeps them just outside the top eight.
Veteran Manu Vatuvei juggled and dived his way to career try No.150 for the Kiwis’ first points, with Thomas Leuluai’s second half double and David Fusitu’a’s effort with 70 seconds on the clock getting them back into the contest.
Issac Luke’s sideline conversion levelled the scores at 22-22 to send them into extra time.
It was their third golden-point loss in four matches.
“The good thing about us at the moment is we’re fighting hard,” coach Andrew McFadden said.
“I thought we played pretty average today for the most of it, but we just strung a really good patch of footy together right at the end which gave us a chance.
“It is a harsh lesson to learn but that’s where we are as a group at the moment.”
The Raiders play South Sydney on Sunday week at ANZ Stadium, while the Warriors – who lost Vatuvei to an a knee injury – host Penrith on Saturday.