Canberra Raiders on track to turn around close losses
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Canberra Raiders on track to turn around close losses

Sick of close losses, the Canberra Raiders have said enough is enough and used the pre-season to address the issue as they set their sights on a top-eight return.

Raiders prop Sia Soliola revealed the Green Machine have been simulating how to close out the final stages of games.

Raiders prop Sia Soliola says they're looking to turn around their results in close games in their push to return to the top eight.

Raiders prop Sia Soliola says they're looking to turn around their results in close games in their push to return to the top eight.Credit:Karleen Minney

Close losses plagued the Raiders during the past two seasons where they've lost 16 of their 21 games decided by six points or less.

Last season they were not only one of the best attacking teams in the competition, but also one of the best teams during the first 60 minutes of games.

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They just struggled to turn their lead after three-quarters into wins.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has put a focus on defence over the past two pre-seasons, with Soliola saying a focus on the dying stages of games had been the main difference he's noticed this summer.

"Given the season we had the last couple of seasons and how similar it was, coming into the season ... is trying to replicate those scenarios out there at training," Soliola said.

"That's probably the mindset that we're having at the moment, is how we can close out those games.

"We've got the attitude, we've got the commitment and belief, it's probably more the technical side of things and that's what we're creating out there [on the training track]."

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Soliola said their sights were set firmly on returning to the NRL finals for the first time since 2016.

They finished second that season, narrowly missing out on the grand final, but finished 10th the past two years - largely due to those close losses.

"Everyone in the comp would be looking at top eight and that's what we're working towards because we were only a bee sting behind a few teams and that's how close the comp was," Soliola said.

"A lot of those close games that we could've closed out, they're the ones that we're looking at because one or two games that we could've won would've changed the whole season and the whole ladder.

"We're really excited about what's ahead."

Soliola will form part of a trimmed down forward pack, which has traded bulk for speed and agility.

While Soliola was unsure how he would fit into Stuart's plans, he was expecting to be in the middle, where he's found a home in the latter stages of his career, rather than the second row.

Himself, Dunamis Lui and Luke Bateman remain from last years' front row, while Josh Papalii could shift across from lock to join them.

The 32-year-old said there was also a group of young forwards who were bringing plenty of energy to the pre-season.

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Emre Guler and Jack Murchie both made their NRL debuts last year, while Corey Horsburgh, Royce Hunt, JJ Collins and English recruit Ryan Sutton were also staking their claims.

"I'll definitely be there in the middle," Soliola said.

"Because we've got John [Bateman] there as well, who has played international in various positions for England that's going to be a big value to us. I've heard how aggressive he is.

"We're hoping to generate a lot more speed in these coming weeks, especially in these trials."

CANBERRA RAIDERS UPCOMING GAMES

Pre-season trials: Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels at St Marys, February 16, 7pm; Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs at Bega, February 23, 5pm.

Round 1: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans at the Gold Coast, March 17, 6.10pm.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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