This year our biggest learning curve: Stuart

Season 2017 will be the biggest learning curve in the careers of many current Canberra players, according to coach Ricky Stuart, who says his charges needed to progress past the mentality developed last year that they could simply blow teams away.

Stuart has said plenty of times that things will be different for Canberra in 2017, after they piled on more than 100 points more than any other side last year, with teams putting plenty of research into how to shut down that electric attack.

It has been successful too, and the Raiders have struggled badly to close out close games when the Plan A of "score a whole ton of points" strategy doesn't pan out.

"This year has been the biggest learning curve for this football team as a squad that they'll ever have," Stuart said after his team downed Cronulla 30-12 to keep their finals hopes alive.

"How we use that (experience) is up to us. Last year we got to a situation where I think it probably came a bit quick and we hadn't had the experience of playing in tight games, we were winning games like tonight and all of a sudden we started this year wanting to win games like this scoreline tonight in every game.

"It's not going to happen in this competition, it's too tough a comp. We found out the hard way which is where we are at the moment.

"Rugby league is a lesson every game every season and we're getting it and hopefully now in the back end of the season can put a lot of those tough lessons we've got throughout the year into practice now with our games. We've got four games left and we can only worry about what we do and sometimes that's a good thing."

‌The team never stopped believing they were capable of playing finals this year, Stuart added.

"We haven't stopped believing. We got ourselves into this position and I think we probably won that game tonight through a lot of the education we've had through a lot of close losses because it was a tight game there for a while," he said.

"I've kept saying all along: if we stop turning the football over and giving the opposition cheap possession, it makes our job easier.

"For a big part of the season we were turning over too much football and making it too hard for us defensively. 

"Tonight we didn't [make it easy for the opposition], we completed at 91 per cent. When we complete at 91 per cent or complete above 80, and get 50 per cent of the footy, we're a chance to beat any team in the comp."

Stuart again rung some changes in his forward pack; in recent weeks hooker Josh Hodgson has spent time at lock to help accommodate for the losses of suspended pair Josh Papalii and Sia Soliola. On Saturday Elliott Whitehead played most of the game in the middle with Joe Tapine on an edge and, like last week's big win over the Rabbitohs, every player adapted to what was asked of him.

"As a coach you have to make decision but when I've got good footy players like that it gives me confidence," Stuart said.

"When I play [back-up hooker] Kurt [Baptiste] and 'Hodgo' in the middle through starts of games that gives me confidence because I know they're both good players."

Stuart described Whitehead as one of the team's best players in every game this year and "a wonderful bloke to coach."

"I'm very fortunate having him in our colours as a Raider. I thought he was outstanding, along with our big boys who were getting us a lot of go-forward I thought Elliott Whitehead was just wonderful. He can play centre, he can play back row, he can play front row, he can play lock like he did tonight. He's just a tough Pom."