The Canberra Raiders take on Tough Mudder
The Canberra Raiders battle through the Tough Mudder obstacle course. Photo: Arunas Klupsas
Canberra coach David Furner conceded the Raiders had a worrying penchant for ''getting comfortable'' at times last season.
But the Canberra players and coaching staff were as far from their comfort zone as possible when their mental and physical strength was stretched to its limit at Kangaroo Valley on Thursday and Friday.
In a bid to address their roller-coaster form of 2012, the Raiders were pushed to breaking point through a torturous two-day military-style training course.
From hiking waist deep through mud lugging heavy bags of supplies and logs, to sleep deprivation and surviving on rations, it put their resolve under the blow torch.
On Thursday the players hiked 22 kilometres through lung-bursting terrain, collecting equipment for their campsite along the way.
They were then required to build their own campsite within half an hour, with the players punished with 100 push-ups for every extra minute taken.
On Thursday night they were woken, unannounced, so Tough Mudder's military trainer Lee Campbell could attempt to break their spirit by driving them through a gruelling obstacle course.
To top it off, they completed a four-hour mountain hike carrying logs and sandbags up and down a steep mountain on Friday morning.
Raiders lock Shaun Fensom, regarded as one of the NRL's toughest players, said the initiative would be invaluable in helping the side make better decisions when fatigued.
''The biggest thing it's going to help is we can have lapses in games at the 60th-minute mark where a player or the team clocks off, we leak 12 or 18 points and find ourselves in trouble,'' Fensom said.
The Raiders had a bewildering habit of backing up a comprehensive win with a woeful defeat this year, before finding consistency late in the campaign to storm into the finals.
In a bid to address their appalling inconsistency, the side resorted to rooming together at Rydges Eagle Hawk Resort before home games, with great success.
Furner wants them to toughen up mentally, and the Kangaroo Valley trip was designed to improve their teamwork and individual resolve.
''It's that mental side that let us down,'' Raiders prop Brett White said. ''We were able to beat Melbourne in Melbourne and other top sides, and lose to some of the sides we should be beating. It's exactly that which this was designed for, to try and overcome that.''
Furner has devoted plenty of time this pre-season to improving his players' ability to make good decisions when the going gets tough on the field.
''After the season we planned to look at getting that mental focus and preparation,'' he said. ''We had to, and that was evident with the win-loss, win-loss [cycle] of last year.
''They know they need to tick every box and we're probably a team that got comfortable. We had a win, we got pretty comfortable.''
The trip also allowed the squad to get to know newcomers including former Knights enforcer Joel Edwards and Bulldogs recruit Jake Foster.
However, White joked the sleeping arrangements during the Kangaroo Valley venture took ''team bonding'' to a new level.
''We were trying to sleep pretty tight to each other to keep warm,'' White said. ''The whole squad was probably half a dozen sleeping bags short, and under pressure the boys had to figure that out.
''There wasn't a lot of food … it was all part of it being able to communicate and work together and sort it out.
''We spoke about no matter the conditions or how bad it gets, to keep focused on the task ahead, and we can relate that back to football.''
Fensom was one of the unfortunate few forced to share his sleeping arrangements.
''I got zero sleep. I was sharing a sleeping bag with 'Woody' [conditioning coach Leigh Woodbridge], it was freezing and there were blokes snoring beside us.''