What a difference a season makes. Josh McCrone will walk out onto CUA Stadium to take on the Panthers tomorrow night with the No.7 jersey very much his own and part of a Canberra side that is the hottest ticket in town.

Yet it was just four months ago he was in a desperate scrap to save his NRL career, unsure of whether or not he would even be given another shot in the top grade – and still without a contract for 2011.

“I sort of got myself in a bit of a rut at the start of the year,” he told NRL.com today. “I think I just got too comfortable in my job and I started to lose my confidence.

“Campo and I weren’t working too well together and we weren’t winning too many games – in the end the coach decided to drop me altogether.”

Having been hailed as the man most likely to fill the Raiders’ vacant halfback role this season, McCrone instead spent the next two weeks playing with Queensland Cup side Souths Logan, but rather than wallow in his misfortune he knuckled down and regained his spot in the nation’s capital.

“I think the spell I had at Souths Logan was good for me,” he said. “David Furner and I did a fair bit of talking about things but I think it was really just that time away.

“I was back playing my mates – a lot of the guys I played Jersey Flegg with – and it was a bit lesser standard, so I could just enjoy myself.

“I got back to enjoying my footy… and it helped big time. I think I’ve realised the importance now of just playing my own game and if I do that it helps create some room for Campo as well.

“I’ve got a pretty good right-hand side there with Bronson Harrison and Daniel Vidot outside me so it’s important for the team that I just go out there and do my job.

“But it’s funny – all of that stuff that happened seems like a long time ago now. I remember thinking at the start of the year that I’d just be happy to still be playing in Round 26 and it’s been lucky enough to turn out that way.”

The Raiders, touted as the side everyone else wants to avoid in this year’s finals series, produced a devastating second-half display to down this week’s opponents Penrith in Canberra only five weeks ago.

But McCrone said his side would have to lift again to down a Penrith side that has rediscovered their mojo over the past three weeks.

“I think they’ll be a totally different side this week,” he said. “We sort of ambushed them in the second half last time but I don’t think we can afford to start that slowly again.

“They’ve been playing well and they’ve got a couple more good players back this week so we can’t read anything into that last game.”

McCrone said the Raiders had as good a chance as any side to match Parramatta’s stunning run 12 months ago and storm into the grand final but warned of the importance of not resting on their laurels after winning eight of their past nine games just to make the top eight.

“We knew we had to lift the intensity this week at training because we were a bit flat last week but I think that happens naturally because everyone is excited about playing finals footy – especially from where we came from,” he said.

“I think anything is possible now. If you’d asked me 10 weeks ago if we could make the finals, I would have said it was a tough road, but we’re here now. It’s a new ball game.”

Late NRL news:
•    The Titans are in the midst of a mini-injury crisis, with fullback Preston Campbell ruled out of tonight’s clash with the Warriors and Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Brad Meyers, Mat Rogers and Steve Michaels all in varying degrees of doubt. Campbell’s spot will be taken by William Zillman.

•    Wests Tigers fullback Wade McKinnon looks like being ruled out yet again with a hamstring injury for tomorrow night’s clash with Sydney Roosters.

•    The Dragons will welcome back Jamie Soward, Dean Young, Ben Hornby and Trent Merrin for their clash with Manly on Sunday after the four were given a week off against Souths last week.