Mentally drained Raiders are back: Stuart

Coach Ricky Stuart says Canberra were mentally spent before their NRL win over Newcastle, but are now back in the game.

The Raiders blasted the Knights 36-22 at a bitterly cold GIO Stadium on Friday night, thanks to a quickfire Blake Austin hat-trick in the opening 15 minutes and a second-half double to Josh Papalii.

It was their first victory in month and has them just one win outside the top eight.

While Stuart said last week’s bye had been timely, the last-gasp one-point loss to North Queensland at home on June 20 had taken a heavy toll on his side.

“I don’t think people understand how much the Cowboys game took out of us – mentally, not so much physically,” he said.

“But we’re back now. We’ve spoken about it and worked on a couple of areas.

“They’re a tough bunch of blokes these guys and they bounced back well (against the Knights).

“That was a desperate footy team there.”

Austin’s performance sparked immediate talk of a 2016 State of Origin berth to lead NSW’s revival.

Wednesday’s 52-6 thrashing by Queensland in the decider has sent coach Laurie Daley back to the drawing board, with many calling for Austin to be part of a new halves pairing.

But Stuart typically played down his star five-eighth’s worth.

“Blake will keep improving as the little things in his game does,” he said.

“The good ones always turn up where the ball is and that’s what happens with Blake, because he’s a good player.

“But the are other areas of his game that we’re working on.”

Austin said Origin was a long time away and far from his mind, insisting his focus was on the Raiders.

“My form next year will determine what happens,” he told Fairfax Media.

“I’ve never enjoyed my footy as much before. Coming into this year I didn’t know you could enjoy NRL this much.”

The former Wests Tigers utility’s best games have been alongside halfback Sam Williams, who could be in doubt for next week’s clash with Cronulla.

Williams injured his pectoral muscle in the second half but Stuart was unsure post-match how serious it was.

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