Coach Ricky Stuart has declared a new era of NRL success in the nation’s capital with Canberra securing a top-two finish with a final-round thumping of Wests Tigers.
The Raiders ended the Tigers’ finals hopes with a 52-10 defeat of the joint venture at Leichhardt Oval before 18,634 fans on Sunday, with hooker Josh Hodgson starring.
Canberra’s regular season points tally, which rested at 688 by game’s end, eclipses the club record of 677 set by the premiership-winning 1994 side, considered one of the best teams of all time.
It underlined the strength of the Raiders’ performance this year over the premiership rounds as they set up a qualifying final with Cronulla at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
“I am really happy for the players, they deserve to be there,” Stuart said.
“They have been very consistent this year. It was a professional performance today but another competition starts now.”
Stuart was at halfback under skipper Mal Meninga in the Raiders star-studded 1994 side, the club’s last title winning outfit.
“At the start of the year we spoke about creating our own piece of history,” Stuart said.
“It will be good for Canberra and the community. I know what it (success) can do.
“There will be a really good vibe and it is a great opportunity for these boys to see what is on offer.
“Hopefully it will build a bigger and stronger supporter base.”
The Raiders win was built on a 30-4 first half lead in which Hodgson set up two tries and scored one himself.
Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii both scored twice for Canberra. Rapana’s first try set up with a incredible ‘swivel-flick’ pass from Joey Leilua.
Jack Wighton was put on report for a second half shoulder charge on Joel Edwards but Stuart said he wasn’t concerned his star fullback would miss week one of the finals.
After dropping club legend Robbie Farah to reserve grade in July, Tigers coach Jason Taylor had hoped to create his own piece of history at the club this season.
But they again failed to return to the finals for the first time since 2011.
“It is very disappointing,” Taylor said.
“We beat ourselves that is the thing. We just made too many errors.
“We haven’t had a game like that for the last couple of seasons.
“It was unforced error after unforced error. The harder we tried the worse it got.”
The Tigers would have knocked Gold Coast out of eighth spot if they’d won.
“You could say the situation got to us but we have been playing under that sort of pressure for several weeks now,” Taylor said.
Stuart said he wasn’t concerned about the Raiders’ lack of finals experience.
“Beating the Sharks twice in a month will be a tough ask,” he said.
“Being at home is an advantage and I hope youth and enthusiasm can overcome that lack of experience.”