Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says he won't tolerate more late-season mediocrity against Penrith on Monday night, labelling last week's Gold Coast horror show as "rubbish" and "of last year's calibre".
Stuart put on a brave face after the 28-12 Titans defeat, undoubtedly Canberra's worst of the year, telling media he could "excuse" the performance after their finals hopes evaporated against Manly the week before.
But within the inner sanctum, the dialogue was much more unforgiving. "It was a completely different conversation behind closed doors with the players in the change rooms," Stuart said.
"I understand the position the players were in last week, but what I said [to them] was a lot different to what I said in the press conference. We don't need to go backwards. That performance was of last year's calibre and we're a better football team than that. That's not good enough, we have to be better than that rubbish we delivered last week."
The Raiders were flat, but they will have ample motivation in Monday's final home game of the year against Penrith Panthers.
Not only are they looking for just a third win in front of their own fans this year, long-serving prop David Shillington will play his final game in Canberra before joining the Titans.
Five more players will also be farewelled after the match – Mitch Cornish, Mark Nicholls, Jack Ahearn, Mitch Cronin and Kyle O'Donnell.
"We've just got to put a good performance from a whole club point of view, and it would be nice to do it for David in his last home game," Stuart said.
"It's really important from a club point of view we put in a couple of good performance now, and finish the season well."
Telling players they are no longer required is never an enjoyable task for any coach, but the Raiders turnover has been much less dramatic than recent times.
"It's part of the job, I believe the players make the decision," Stuart said. "It's harder seeing guys finish careers with injuries, and not the way they deserve to."
Prop Nicholls is expected to join either Melbourne or New Zealand Warriors, while halfback Cornish has attracted interest from Parramatta and English Super League.
"I'd love to see Mitch get the opportunity to continue his development in the NRL," Stuart said.
The loss of Shillington and Nicholls means the Raiders are aggressively searching for a prop for next year, but Stuart declined to elaborate on any candidates.
"I don't want to talk about future recruitment because it just gets too out of hand," Stuart said. "Some clubs are in a position where they can look and others are fixing their cap, fortunately we're not.
"Don [Furner, CEO] is talking to a few players and we're not in any rush, we've still got a couple of games to focus on. I've been very happy with the progression of the footy team this season, we've probably risen to some better heights than we originally thought. We have to learn how to win games now."
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker said farewelling Shillington on a high note should be "plenty" of motivation for the team to lift.
"I know it will be for me, I've played a lot of footy with Shillo and he's going to be greatly missed around here," Croker said. "It's easy to go out there and drop your bundle the last couple of games, but that doesn't help anyone."
MONDAY: NRL round 25: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 7pm. Live on Fox Sports. Tickets available at the gate or at Ticketek