Raiders prop Josh Papalii has revealed how he and lock Joseph Tapine had taken on leadership roles within the team after a mid-season meeting with coach Ricky Stuart in the wake of the club's forward injury crisis.
Papalii and Tapine led the way in Friday night's gripping 22-18 defeat of Sydney Roosters as the Raiders moved to within one win of a second consecutive grand final, despite the loss of star hooker Josh Hodgson and a number of key middle forwards.
Corey Horsburgh has not played since round seven, Emre Guler and Iosia Soliola suffered serious injuries a week later and Hodgson's season ended after he ruptured his ACL in round nine. But Papalii and Tapine stepped up to help prevent the derailment of Canberra's premiership campaign.
"Ricky brought me and Taps into his office, and just said with all the middles going down it was important for me and Taps to take charge," Papalii said.
"I just try and lead the forward pack the way I should and the boys jump on the wagon and follow. Also, speaking up in meetings. That has been important to me and helped me develop into a better leader."
Match Highlights: Roosters v Raiders
After ending the Roosters hopes of an historic premiership three-peat, the Raiders now face Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night for a place in the October 25 grand final.
Soliola returned from facial fractures three weeks ago but Canberra have since lost English prop Ryan Sutton, while Hodgson, Guler, and Horsburgh remain on the sidelines.
While much of the media coverage leading into the elimination final against the Roosters had been about last year's controversial grand final loss, the players were focused on starting well with Papalii and Tapine taking it upon themselves to make that happen.
Papalii scored in the fourth minute and began the movement that led to the Raiders' second try in the 18th minute, before Tapine stepped his way over the line five minutes later to give Canberra a 16-0 lead.
"I think [Tapine] has been the best forward in our pack for the last three months," Papalii said. "He has just led by example, not only on the field but off the field as well, keeping everyone accountable in the gym and keeping old blokes like myself honest.
"I am not sure if we are a better team this year. I think we are less experienced but we have just got young guys who are hungry. Last year we had a lot of experience and we relied on that.
"We suffered a lot of major injuries early to key players but the younger guys are hungry and they just love playing footy."
Losing Hodgson was a massive blow as much of Canberra's attack revolves around him at dummy half but fellow Englishman George Williams and halves partner Jack Wighton also assumed added responsibility.
Williams turned last weekend's opening finals clash with Cronulla in favour of the Raiders with an intercept try and Wighton scored the match-winning try on Friday night from a perfectly weighted grubber by the England halfback that bounced awkwardly for Roosters fullback James Tedesco.
"Having Hodgo out, and other players, has made people take more ownership of the team," Stuart said.
Tapine monsters the Roosters
"To lose a world class player like Josh, I understand why people said straight away that the season is over, but straight away both the halves took a step forward and said 'We will control the ruck now'.
"We have got two or three different styles of attack and once Josh left we had to go to plan B. Having two experienced halves like that was really a big help for me as a coach because they could take over the ownership and responsibility from Hodgo."
If the Raiders beat Melbourne, then the grand final qualifier at Suncorp Stadium could be Storm captain Cameron Smith's last match as he is yet to confirm his playing future.
But Papalii said there would be no room for sentiment for his former Kangaroos and Maroons teammate.
"Smits is the GOAT," Papalii said. "He is from the same region I am from in Logan and there are so many kids who look up to Smits. I am no different.
"As a young Logan boy growing up I used to idolise him until I started playing. To play with him and against him has been a dream come true. They will be tough on Friday, we have to get a good start and finish strong."