Raiders ready to be a thorn in Saints' side

Canberra may be out of any realistic semi-finals calculations, but coach David Furner says he won’t accept his side putting the cue in the rack.<br><br>The Raiders face rugby league’s most difficult challenge when they host table-topping St George Illawarra tomorrow night with a loss enough to officially end their play-off hopes, but Furner believes a strong finish to the season will set the side up nicely for a much-improved performance in 2010.<br><br>“Two weeks ago, after the Broncos game, we sat down and looked at the remaining games we had we were up against all of the teams that were above us and we see that as a real challenge,” he told NRL.com today.<br><br>“If we don’t get a chance to play semi-finals football, we can at least take a lot out of these games.<br><br>“We’re not even looking ahead to the end of the season yet, we want to take as much as we can out of each game and we want to keep winning.<br><br>“If you talk about getting experience, well we’re up against the best and that is the focus for us.”<br><br>Canberra face a tricky run home with away games against the Warriors and Brisbane sandwiching one remaining home game against hot-and-cold Newcastle – but it is tomorrow night’s clash with the Dragons that will make or break their season.<br><br>Although even four consecutive wins to end the season would most likely still see them miss out on a finals berth, the logjam of teams fighting to finish between fifth and eighth makes an unlikely top-eight finish a remote possibility.<br><br>“But it will be very difficult,” Furner said. “When we talk about the best, this week we come up against the best of the best in St George Illawarra.<br><br>“They’ve got plenty of speed and very good go-forward so it’s a test. Individually and as a team it’s a massive test for us.”<br><br>The Raiders have been one of the NRL’s great mysteries this season – at times resembling a group of lost schoolkids yet at others making their opponents look second rate.<br><br>It is their inconsistency that has been their downfall.<br><br>Last Saturday they made the Bulldogs scrap until the final seconds before eventually falling narrowly 23-20; a week earlier they handed Brisbane the biggest loss in their 22-year history 56-0.<br><br>But before that came insipid performances against Wests Tigers and Penrith when their season was still very much alive.<br><br>“You only have to change two or three results and your entire season is different – and that’s the disappointing thing,” Furner said.<br><br>“The reality is that we let slip a couple of opportunities in games and I’m certainly not happy with where we are at the moment.<br><br>“I never expected us to be where we are at this stage of the season.<br><br>“With the squad we have we should be further up.”<br><br>Furner said a lack of experience had ultimately proved telling.<br><br>“We’ve got players in key positions that combined wouldn’t have played 100 (NRL) games,” he said.<br><br>“I probably didn’t think we would blood as many players as we have this season but we’ve had some injuries at times.<br><br>“I never looked at us as being inexperienced but what I didn’t factor in during the year was that things happen in games that you have to experience as a team.<br><br>“You just hope that you learn from your experiences.”<br><br><b>Late News…</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Chase Stanley and Jason Nightingale are fighting it out to replace suspended Dragons centre Beau Scott tomorrow night;<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Brisbane pair Peter Wallace and Nick Kenny are in doubt for Brisbane’s crucial clash with Penrith on Sunday after both came back from injury in last Monday’s win over Cronulla;<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;North Queensland winger Michael Bani is expected to be called into the squad for tonight’s clash with the Bulldogs after recovering from back spasms.<br>