Croker and Raiders eager to avenge narrow 2017 losses
Canberra captain Jarrod Croker insists the Raiders are hell-bent on consigning the close losses of last year to the record books, as the team zeros in on their round one clash with the Gold Coast Titans.
After reaching the preliminary final in 2016, last season could be described as a year of 'what ifs' for the Raiders.
A record of just 2-8 in games decided by less than a try saw them fall from a possible top four berth to missing the post-season all together.
Croker said the feeling the players had after each of those heartbreaking losses was not something they wanted to experience again.
"We put last season behind us but at the same time we have to win those games," Croker said.
"We have to get better at finishing off those games, so that's been a big focus for us in the off-season so hopefully it shows early on."
Canberra's discipline in the final five minutes of games has to be better this season if they are to fulfil their potential.
The Raiders, who played only one pre-season trial, gave away 26 penalties between the 75th and 80th minute of games in 2017, contributing to Ricky Stuart's men letting the opposition back into games.
Overtime losses were also a crucial factor in the club finishing 10th, with the Raiders losing three of the four golden-point games they played in.
"There were a couple of tough times there, three golden point losses, those are heartbreaking," Croker said.
"But we've got the same squad for the most part this year and if you want to take a positive out of it, we had some tough losses and we stuck together and came through the other side.
"We don't want to feel like we did a couple of times in the sheds after those close losses again."
The 213-game veteran said a combination of a settled squad and maturing young players should provide a solid platform for the club to launch towards the finals.
"We have changed a lot but our personnel hasn't changed much over the past three years," Croker said
"That spine has had three years together, they have played about 100 games together, so they're really at that age where they are maturing.
"We've had some competition for spots too, Sam Williams being back there in the halves, Brad Abbey, Nick Cotric playing a bit of fullback."
Canberra's first two opponents, the Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights, finished second last and last respectively in 2017.
However, on the back of off-season spending sprees by both clubs, Croker expects the form guide to be thrown out the window.
"The Gold Coast, I think they're going to be a really strong side this year, I think they've bought really well," he said.
"And you look at Newcastle and they have bought well. Mitchell Pearce is going to be great for them.
"But they've got (Aidan) Guerra, (Kalyn) Ponga, (Shaun) Kenny-Dowall, they are going to be a quality side as well."