The Canberra Raiders romped to a third straight NRL Telstra Premiership victory on Sunday to continue their push towards the finals, but insist they remain realistic about their chances of playing beyond Round 26 this year.
With a commanding 36-16 win over the Warriors in Auckland, 10th-placed Canberra kept their play-off hopes alive heading into the final three weeks of the regular season, with four competition points between them and the Penrith Panthers, Manly Sea Eagles and North Queensland Cowboys, who are all locked on 28 points on the edge of the top eight.
But while his side have emerged as one of the competition's form teams over the past month, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said his players were under no illusions about the task at hand.
The Raiders will have to travel only once through the final three weeks of the regular season, with the daunting task of facing the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park awaiting them in Round 26.
Two of their remaining games come against sides who sit in the competition's top five for points scored this year, in the shape of the Storm and Panthers, while also meeting the Newcastle Knights, who are currently riding a three-game winning streak.
"Penrith are going to be tough, Newcastle are going to be tough, and then we have got Melbourne in Melbourne, so we have got a really, really tough finish," Stuart said.
"We haven't done what we need to do, we are just slowly creeping up on what we want to get to and that is to win the rest of our games this season.
"We spoke about that before Souths, we beat Souths, we beat Cronulla, we won [against the Warriors], so there's three out of the six that we need to win."
Rookie sensation Nick Cotric – who was in fine form against the Warriors, clocking 156 run metres to go with a double and a try assist – told NRL.com his side's four victories from their last five games had given them plenty of reason to believe they can continue their late surge up the ladder.
"The last couple of weeks the boys have been showing up, especially in big games like that against the Sharks, and we have been able to carry that on to the next week," Cotric said.
"So the confidence is slowly rising, we have just got to keep improving each week and hopefully it comes together. It's on the up, but at the same time we have to keep our heads down and work hard and build as a team.
"Every game now is going to be tough. The Panthers are going to be a good test, they beat us at Bathurst earlier this year, and Newcastle they are going to be a tough one, they are a good team and lately have been performing each week."