Raiders to use heartbreak as motivation
Canberra Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker is hoping to use last season's heartbreak as motivation for the club's 2016 NRL campaign.
The Green Machine finished two wins outside the top eight, but it could have been a very different story had results gone their way. Canberra lost three games at home by two points, another one to an after-the-siren Johnathan Thurston field goal, and another one to a Valentine Holmes one-pointer in extra-time.
The iconic shot of the club's 2015 campaign was Canberra players slumped on the turf after the full-time whistle, bemoaning nail-biting losses after leading in the second half. Croker is hoping to change that in 2016.
"It was tough. There were a few of those, especially at Canberra Stadium, which was disappointing, especially for our fantastic fans. We owe it to the fans to turn those games around," Croker told NRL.com at Thursday's NRL season launch.
"I think if we look back at those and see how heartbroken all the boys were, and how much the boys have stuck together, we've learnt from it and we've learnt together."
Canberra Stadium has long been a fortress for last year's 10th-placed team, with travelling sides often battling the elements in the nation's capital. Last year's Raiders managed just three wins from 12 at Canberra Stadium, the club's worst record at the venue.
"We didn't play badly at all last year at home, but there were just so many of those tight games that we couldn't get over the line," the NRL's youngest captain said.
"We need to start well at home this year – I think we've got five out of our first eight at home – so there's no better time to turn that into a fortress. It's not going to happen overnight either, but it all starts next Saturday and I know the boys are chomping at the bit to go."
Scoring points wasn't a problem for Canberra in 2015, with the Raiders finishing the regular season with the third best attack. They weren't as sound defensively, however, giving up the fifth most points.
Croker believes his side's defence oriented pre-season will be crucial in their bid to get back into the top eight for the first time since 2012.
"We know defence wins games and wins competitions. We've got all the attack in the world, but if you can't defend your line then that's null and void," Croker said.
"We work really hard. We've got some combinations that we've worked on as edges that'll help us out.
"Dean Pay has been working really hard with the big boys in the middle. I think the amount of fitness we've done as well will be a key factor in that as well. We should be fit enough by now, and the boys are nice and aggressive and ready to go."
One stat that works in Canberra's favour comes courtesy of their coach Ricky Stuart. When he took over the Sharks in 2007, Cronulla lost nine matches by four points or less.
One year later, the Sharks finished the regular season equal first with the Storm and Sea Eagles, having learned their lessons from the previous year's tough defeats.
While clearly stung by what happened in 2015, Croker knows how close his young side is to turning it around and possibly doing 'a Cronulla'.
"We've got the same spine of boys so we've just worked hard," Croker said.
"Going through those tough losses, I'm sure they'll turn around for us and hopefully we'll be on the other end of those tight games this year."