Stuart again frustrated by late-game options
A terse and frustrated Ricky Stuart has lamented his team's continuing inability to make good decisions late in games after yet another winnable game slipped through their grasp in Mudgee on Sunday.
The Raiders led the table-topping Dragons 18-16 with 20 minutes to go in the eventual 25-18 loss but some baffling play while down to 12 men with Jordan Rapana in the sin-bin for a professional foul and in the final 10 gave their opponents a leg up.
"We won't improve as a football team until we start consistently learning how to close out those games that are tight and we don't consistently do it well enough," Stuart said after the game.
Asked about whether there was a discipline issue given Rapana did not need to tackle Nene Macdonald off the ball on the play fullback Jack Wighton had covered, Stuart said he would need to "look at it again".
Stuart gave the same response when asked if back-rower Joe Tapine may have a case to answer for a shoulder charge on Dragons fullback Matt Dufty that handed the Dragons a crucial two points to level up at 10-all after the half-time siren.
He did, however, say he was otherwise happy with the opening 40, in which the Raiders outscored the Dragons two tries to one despite going into the sheds even on the scoreboard.
"I was pretty happy with the first 40. We went into it at 10-all. It was nice and tough and close," Stuart said.
"It was 18-all there with a player off [with 20 minutes to go] and we had a play-the-ball on tackle five in front of the goalposts. We should kick the field goal and we should've went a point up.
"And we get our man back and we're a point up when they had a man off. We've got to start playing smart about our football, and we're not."
Stuart, however, refused to blame his under-fire halves, insisting it "comes down to everybody."
Skipper Jarrod Croker also couldn't hide his frustration after another close loss.
"We've just got to be smart. We said it last week, we said it round one, two and three," Croker said.
"Yes the halves, the nines, have got a very important role in that [taking a field goal at the right time].
"But they've got people around them that are smart enough to know that they should be combined with those types of decisions. It's just a matter of mentioning something in regards to a strategy or a play.
"We talk about closing out games a lot. We're losing games because we're not closing them out well enough at the moment.
''We've put ourselves in so many positions this season so far to win games and we haven't. That is frustrating like it was last week, sitting here, I sound like a broken record every week. We work on it, talk about it, but we're not doing it."