Des Hasler

Open competition ... Des Hasler. Photo: Anthony Johnson

CANTERBURY coach Des Hasler says he can't simply demand an improvement from his players after producing substandard football against Canberra last weekend - it's up to them to address the issue against Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.

''It's not what I say, it's how they think and how they react,'' Hasler said yesterday. ''They know where we need to improve. You can't play with 40 per cent possession and complete only two-thirds of it [and win].''

The Raiders ended the Bulldogs' 12-game winning streak with a 34-6 victory on a cold night in Canberra. Hasler conducted the post-mortem and said his players handled the week following the heavy loss ''like professionals''.

''They know it wasn't up to scratch, and they know it wasn't acceptable,'' Hasler said. ''And they will want to amend that this week, probably against another side that I think is difficult to play against.''

Hasler, like all of the top coaches, never underestimates the importance of simply controlling the ball. It might sound basic, but the never-ending story is that if you turn it over too much you can't expect to win. Canberra rammed that point home against the Bulldogs.

''If you listen to some smart footy people, one in particular who is Andrew Johns, his comment all year has been that possession is the secret to success in a semi-final campaign,'' Hasler said. ''While the competition can be very open, here we are in round 26 and we haven't even worked out the top eight yet.''

One loss after such a long winning run is not life-threatening, but Hasler admitted it was very important to avoid losing two in a row at this time of the year. ''I think, going into finals games, you want to go in with a bit of momentum,'' he said.

Canterbury have just a two-point lead on the table now, after second-placed Melbourne's miracle escape to beat Cronulla on Monday. They would lose the minor premiership on points for-and-against differential if they lost to the Roosters and the Storm beat Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

Hasler pointed to Melbourne and Manly as the most dangerous opponents going into the finals. Manly are fourth on the table and can guarantee a top-four finish by beating Gold Coast at Skilled Park on Saturday. If the Sea Eagles don't win, North Queensland would overtake them by beating Cronulla at Toyota Stadium on Sunday.

''Let's be honest, you can't take away that big-match experience,'' Hasler said. ''They are benchmark sides. That's a reality, a fact.''