Refreshed Raiders ready for finals run
The Canberra Raiders will be hoping last week's bye round will freshen them up mentally as they look to make a late push for the finals starting with Friday night's clash with St George Illawarra.
Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson is expected to play after withdrawing late in the side's 31-18 defeat to the North Queensland Cowboys in Round 17 – their fourth straight loss after back-to-back wins in Round 11 and 12.
With fellow rake Adam Clydsdale leaving the club for the Sharks just days before the June 30 mid-season transfer deadline, bench hooker Kurt Baptiste was forced to play a career-high 70 minutes for the Green Machine in that game with no other hookers available in the top squad.
Baptiste made a successful return from a rupture achilles suffered in the pre-season to churn out 38 tackles.
"It wasn't too bad, I obviously played more minutes than what I'm used to in the NRL so it was a challenge but something I enjoyed," Baptiste said.
"Clydy left that week and then Hodgo got ruled out so there was only me. We went to having three hookers to just me.
"If I got another opportunity I could get out those minutes but it was my first time and a role I wasn't used to."
With the Raiders slumping to 11th place on the ladder after a successful 2016 season, Baptiste said the bye week was just what the team needed.
"The bye probably came at a good time. It does get frustrating because we put high expectations on ourselves so it was a good time to get away and freshen up mentally," the 26-year-old said.
"We're sticking together and staying positive as it's the only way we can get out of this.
"We're getting to a stage now where we don't have many more chances. We don't go out there to lose and we're going to be even more desperate to win from now on."
Raiders teammate Elliott Whitehead was confident the break could be the catalyst for a late charge towards the top eight, and was not keen to compare their campaign to last year's second-place finish.
This week's opponents the Dragons are in seventh position on the Telstra Premiership ladder but will feel the pressure from sides like the Raiders, Panthers and Warriors in the run home.
"I think it has been a good thing to have the bye last week, the boys have come back into training in a good mood and everyone is buzzing," Whitehead said.
"It's definitely been tough, we want to go out there and win games but unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way.
"I don't like to talk about last year but we showed last year what we're capable of and we've shown this year in patches what we are capable of.
"There's only eight games left and we know we have to win majority of them.
"We all believe in each other and what we can do. We just need to keep hold of the ball and I'm sure if we have a bit more possession it will help us a lot."