This is just the start for Raiders: Stuart

This is only the beginning.

Ricky Stuart bellowed those words just minutes after Canberra’s NRL revival came to a heartbreaking halt in Melbourne on Saturday night.

The Raiders pushed the Storm all the way in their preliminary final at AAMI Park, leading early before ultimately falling two points short of a dream grand final appearance.

The 14-12 defeat ended a fairytale season for the Green Machine, who came to life in 2016 on the back of an enthralling attacking style.

Stuart cut a dejected figure after the game but was proud of his team’s efforts in a season in which few predicted they would finish so close to a decider.

“We sit here after every game win, lose or draw and talk about how much effort we put in for one another and it was no different this time. It’s just a bitter pill to swallow this time,” he said.

The third-year Raiders coach admitted even he was surprised by his team’s success after they finished second at the end of the regular season and claimed two finals scalps.

“I’d be lying if I said I expected this,” he said.

“If anybody said they’d expected us to be No.2 in the competition this year and be playing in a prelim, you’d think they were dancing with the fairies.”

Canberra were sitting precariously in eighth spot at the end of round 10, and Stuart said their fortunes changed after a breakthrough victory against the Warriors in New Plymouth.

From there, his team won 13 of their next 14 games to surge into the finals.

The mid-season acquisitions of Joseph Tapine and Junior Paulo helped, while the emergence of Jordan Rapana, Josh Hodgson and Joey Leilua was the source of many of their points.

Stuart said their finals heartache would be the making of their team.

“Our hurt now is the start of a really, really competitive era for the Canberra Raiders,” he said.

“This loss will help us achieve success in the near future. We have to learn from this loss. It’s not something we throw away and think, ‘Oh well, that’s over now’.

“The way we play the game has given rugby league another injection of energy and enthusiasm purely through our players. I’m so proud of the season.

“We’re not going away empty handed. We’ll get something out of this.”

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