Raiders’ 2016 season starts now: Stuart

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has already started looking ahead to the 2016 NRL season, saying his side’s 34-18 win over Penrith on Monday night marked the start of their new campaign.

“Our theme for the match was that we wanted to start 2016 tonight, and before the game we spoke about it,” Stuart said after the Canberra Stadium win.

“We had to be professional, we weren’t playing for anything outside pride, so the theme was to commence the first part of 2016.

“We know we’re heading in the right direction. Over the last eight months it’s shown, and we feel and we certainly hope our fans believe we’re going in the right direction, too.

“We know we have a lot to work on.”

Stuart said Canberra had to make its home ground a tougher test for visitors “and we’ve got to win more games at home”.

One vital piece of the Raiders puzzle is star five-eighth Blake Austin, whose recruitment Stuart said had been rewarding for both sides.

The club was buoyed by a pre-match announcement that Austin had penned a new deal until the end of the 2018 season.

The win was bittersweet for Austin, however, after he was forced off in the 50th minute with a right shoulder injury.

Austin’s looming partnership with new recruit, Gold Coast half Aidan Sezer, will be a big boost for the Raiders in 2016.

But Stuart believes his young side will take a lot out of a tough 2015.

“There are areas of our game that we definitely need to be better at, but that will come with experiencing what we have this year,” the coach said.

“We need to learn how to close games out, we need to learn how to be more resilient for 80 minutes.

“There have been games where we’ve let sides get away too far.

“We’ve got to be more resilient and we’ve got to be tougher, and I’m hoping that will come with the group growing together and more experience, because they’re a very young playing group.”

Monday’s win pushed Canberra up to 10th place on the NRL ladder, on 22 points, while the 15th-placed Panthers will battle for the wooden spoon with Newcastle on Saturday afternoon in Penrith.

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