The greatest difference between the Canberra Raiders of 2019 and recent iterations is the hunger and belief they can be the best side in the NRL, according to hooker Josh Hodgson.
Canberra have not lost many fans of their style of play in the last fortnight despite losing to the Roosters and Souths.
Hodgson and the rest of the Raiders know close enough is not good enough in the Telstra Premiership as they prepare to host North Queensland on Saturday.
They are no longer happy just to make the finals, they have their eyes on a much bigger prize as they continue to make self-confessed much-needed improvements.
"If you're not up there [top spot], it's really tough to win it," Hodgson said.
"We look at this time last year and we were maybe one win from the first five and we were struggling and hoping to string a few wins together.
"We had a massive emphasises on the start of the season this year to pick up a few points early and we've had a few injuries and guys in and out of the side but overall our performances have been pretty consistent."
Annesley warns of potential sin bin increase
Canberra co-captain Jarrod Croker said moral victories don’t count towards the Telstra Premiership ladder as they try preparing for a Cowboys side riding high after their 17-10 win over Parramatta last Saturday.
"We'd rather play ordinarily and get the two points, to be honest," Croker said of the last fortnight.
"At the end of the day we've lost our last two games and we've let that top two or three slip away from us.
"We've got a lot of positives to take out of the two games, but we've come out of it with nothing."
Boosting Canberra's chances of snapping their two-game losing streak is the return of Joe Tapine, who has been named off the bench.
"He played a bit of middle for us before he got hurt with John [Bateman] and Elliott [Whitehead] in the back row," Hodgson said.
"He's just a fantastic player and he can create something out of nothing and I'm really happy to have him back."
It is yet another comeback game from injury for the 25-year-old forward, whose work on the rehab room was exceptional, according to Croker.
"Him coming back early shows how tough his is mentally, if he wasn't right he would have been out for a lot longer," he said.
"The fact Taps got his head straight back on and got stuck into his rehab and went about it really professionally and got back early shows he's in a good head space and when he's playing his best footy he's as damaging as anyone in the comp."
Tapine's return allows the Raiders to further bolster their interchange rotation, which has been one of the strongest aspects of their improved form this season. Sebastian Kris has been relegated to the reserves after making his NRL debut last weekend.
"I think our bench has been one of strongest points, Sia [Soliola] and Saliva [Havili] have been fantastic for us and Corey Horsburgh has been putting in some really good performances," Hodgson said.
"I take my hat off to those boys because even when we haven’t started games well they're turned the tide for us."