Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has sent a stern message to his squad as hype begins to build about a possible return to the finals: "we haven't done anything yet".
A win this week will give the Green Machine their best start to a season since 2005 to renew hope about Canberra's playoff chances.
It was the era of Clinton Schifcofske, Simon Woolford, Lincoln Withers, Troy Thompson, Adam Mogg and Ryan O'Hara. Players like Terry Campese and Todd Carney were just youngsters finding their way.
Jarrod Croker was not yet 15, Nick Cotric not yet seven. Sia Soliola was the only modern-day player running around.
It shows just how long it has been since there has been such excitement around the Raiders to start a season, which is why Stuart has quickly brought his squad back down to earth as they brace for an NRL clash with the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday.
Stuart has seen hype build around the likes of the Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers, Parramatta Eels, and New Zealand Warriors at different stages throughout the opening weeks of the season. All were cut down soon after.
"It’s going to be a good test on how players can handle people getting excited and patting them on the back. We haven’t done anything yet," Stuart said.
"As individuals and as a team we haven’t done anything in regards to where we want to be as a footy team and what we want to achieve this year. Time will only tell if we’re tough enough to do that.
"You’ve seen in the competition over the past three weeks, everyone getting a pat on the back, and individual or a team, will come out the next week and fail. The team getting bagged and punched around in the media, such as the Cowboys would be this week, they come out and they prove everyone wrong the next week.
"We’ve got to be tough within ourselves, we’ve got to be tough within our squad, to not let any noise on the outside interrupt what we’re doing here.
"It’s such a long, hard season, and we just need to be really mindful of taking it each day at a time."
Stuart has named an unchanged side to face the Cowboys but back-rower Joe Tapine looms as a chance to return from a thumb injury after being named in the No. 18 jersey.
Sam Williams has retained his spot at halfback as he looks to continue his winning ways with Aidan Sezer set to miss up to three weeks with an oblique injury.
North Queensland are still adjusting to life without Jason Taumalolo with the key forward set to spend up to 10 weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury in a devastating blow for the Cowboys.
But Stuart has been around long enough to know if you take anyone lightly in the top grade - no matter who it is - you could quite easily find yourself on the back foot.
"They’ll be a lot better this week. It’s probably not the time to get them in regards to their last outing," Stuart said.
"I know Paul Green will have them very much turned around and they will have a defensive mindset this week. It’ll be a tough game, we always have a tough game up there.
"We’ve really put a huge focus on defence, and it’s going okay like most of our game. We’ve got a lot of improvement in us in both defence and attack. It’s only very early in the season and we’re nowhere near where we want to be.
"We got well and truly beaten by Melbourne, we came out last week and I still don’t think we played that well. We certainly have improvement from individuals and also as a team."
NRL ROUND FOUR
Saturday: North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders in Townsville, 5.30pm. TV: Live on Fox League.
Raiders squad: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. Sam Williams, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Dunamis Lui, 11. John Bateman, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Ryan Sutton. Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Hudson Young, 16. Sia Soliola, 17. Corey Horsburgh. Reserves: 18. Joe Tapine, 19. Jack Murchie, 20. Bailey Simonsson, 21. JJ Collins.