Experience counts for nothing.
Well, at least Canberra hope.
The in-form Raiders are clear underdogs when it comes to post-season football, yet remain favourites to beat Cronulla in the NRL’s first qualifying final.
Eleven of their 17 will be making their finals debut at GIO Stadium on Saturday, including stars Aidan Sezer, Jordan Rapana and Josh Hodgson.
The others have been there a combined 16 times.
That’s 99 fewer appearances than the Sharks, who don’t have a single newbie in their line-up.
Hooker Michael Ennis, alone, has played in 15 finals matches; James Maloney has been in 14 – including two grand finals – and Chris Heighington a total of 13.
The Raiders’ most experienced is Joey Leilua, who has played half a dozen with two other clubs.
While, admittedly, they have some imports and a few players who spent time overseas, Canberra are 1326 games short on NRL experience compared to the premiership-less Sharks.
But, who cares, right?
“It is a new experience for us, but we’ll relish it,” said veteran Sia Soliola.
“We’ve got a good group here, no-one gets ahead of themselves.
“Everyone is just really knuckling down and trying to improve individually for the team.”
If experience means nothing, than confidence will be everything for the Raiders.
Soliola said their 10-win run towards the playoffs has instilled some confidence in a side that hasn’t been this far since 2012.
That included a 30-14 win over the Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 22.
“It definitely gave us a little bit of a boost,” he said.
“In saying that, everyone’s talking about how finals footy is different and at the end of the day it’s how a team prepares mentally and physically.
“We’ve got a lot of guys (for whom) this feeling is a little bit foreign, but we’re still learning and we’re still on the up.”
Despite the inexperience, Sezer said the Raiders will still play the “fearless” brand of footy that’s become their trademark.
“Nothing will change,” he said.
“Even though it’s finals footy, we’ll back ourselves in everything we do.
“We’ve won 10 on the trot now and we want to make it 11.”
EXPERIENCE v INEXPERIENCE:
* NRL games played:
Sharks: 2601 v Raiders: 1275
* Finals games played:
Sharks: 115 v Raiders: 16
* Players with finals’ experience:
Sharks: 17/17 v Raiders: 6/17