Stuart expects stronger Raiders in 2017
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said he never expected his Canberra outfit to go as far as they did this year following their 14-12 preliminary final loss to the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night.
Stuart said the Raiders exceeded everyone's expectations this season by finishing the regular season in second place on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
Only five players of the 17 that featured against the Storm had played finals football prior to this season.
Yet that didn't stop the Raiders from reaching the final four for the first time in a unified competition since 1995 - remarkably when Stuart was captaining the club.
The Raiders had won 11 of their past 12 prior to their Storm defeat, leaving Stuart to be of the belief that his players gave rugby league a timely "injection of energy and enthusiasm" through their success.
"The journey the boys created this year exceeded everyone's expectations," Stuart said.
"This experience – and I don't want to sound like I'm writing a bloody script – but our development as a club this year, and our hurt now, is the start of a really, really competitive era for the Canberra Raiders.
"This loss will help us achieve success in the near future. We have to learn from this loss. It's not something we throw away and think 'oh well, that's over now'.
"What we have gained through our commitment and effort to every little thing has been a wonderful blessing to the game. I'm so proud of the season," he added.
"I'm always one to take good out of negatives. We're not going away empty handed. We'll get something out of this."
Stuart pinpointed the Raiders' 38-12 win over the Warriors in New Plymouth all the way back in Round 11 as the turn of the club's fortunes.
The Raiders' success has been a testament to their humbleness ever since, according to Stuart.
"If anybody said they'd expected us to be No.2 in the competition this year and be playing in a prelim, you'd think they were dancing with the fairies," Stuart said.
"I knew I had a good footy team, but we worked hard each week. It's a coaching cliché but we took it a day at a time. We'll come back as strong, if not stronger, next year."
Stuart was despondent when asked of his thoughts on fullback Jack Wighton's sin-binning midway through the second half.
"The decision was made and we had to get on with it," he said.
Wighton was handed his marching orders when he failed to get off a clearly tackled Marika Koroibete in time following the Storm winger's huge 70-metre break down field.
It proved to be the turning point of the game with the Storm able to extend their 8-6 lead through centre Cheyse Blair in the set immediately after Wighton's dismissal.
While Elliott Whitehead's try in the final five minutes offered the Raiders a glimmer of hope, by then it was too little too late for the Raiders.
Game on. Data off.
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