Ricky Stuart warns that critics are ready to ‘whack’ Raiders
RAIDERS coach Ricky Stuart is harnessing the negativity of two exasperating NRL seasons and turning it into a full-blown Canberra tilt at the 2019 crown.
Rather than bathe in a resounding 46-12 win over the Warriors in Auckland on Friday night, Stuart cut a defiant figure, saying he and the players were driven by the pain of missing finals football over the previous two seasons. And proving critics wrong.
A slew of narrow losses cost them dearly in consecutive 10th-placed finishes following their 17-win season of 2016.
This year's campaign has soared to 13 wins, including seven in their past eight games, cementing their top-four status.
"What's galvanised this group is handling all those tough periods over the last two years," Stuart said.
"I find some happiness in seeing the boys upbeat about winning.
"All those close losses and the criticism we got over the last couple of years would have broken a lot of people and a lot of teams."
Stuart wasn't getting carried away with the eight-try romp against the flimsy Warriors.
His team are near full-strength and welcome Nick Cotric back from suspension, but Stuart won't be fooled if pundits start talking up the team from the capital, believing the critics of recent years are waiting to resurface.
"I don't listen to the criticism so I won't be listening to the constructive talk ... I've been on the receiving end too many times to know there's people out there who are ready to whack you," Stuart said.
"Inside the camp, in the inner sanctum, we're all very excited and we're very happy with how we're going."
Canberra get a true test of their mettle with successive games against the Sydney Roosters, Melbourne and Manly.
Yet Stuart says he'll read little into how his team emerge from that run.
"I don't need any games in front of us or behind us to show where my squad's at. I know exactly where we're at and I know where we can get to."