Two years of NRL pain have helped the Canberra Raiders come of age through a period coach Ricky Stuart says would've broken most teams.
The Green Machine are flying high early in the 2019 season, sitting third on the ladder and only separated from the top-placed Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters by points differential.
They're looking to return to the NRL finals after a two year absence - a period which Stuart said helped create a more mature Raiders outfit.
Having made the 2016 preliminary final, the Raiders have struggled to rediscover the form that saw them fall just one try short of making the grand final.
During the past two seasons they've struggled to close out and win tight games.
But a massive focus on defence has led to them go from one of the leakiest defences in the competition to the best.
It's also seen them start to win close games, holding off the Brisbane Broncos by four points on Sunday.
Stuart said the two years of pain had played a role in the newfound maturity.
"With some players it's taken three or four years for the switch to flick," he said.
"Consistently not making the eight over the last two years after they got there in 2016 and saw how good it is has given the players that extra bit of added motivation.
"The players have grown with a little bit of time and age.
"It would've broken a lot of football teams and a lot of clubs having two years of putting up with that pain.
"Not one of those boys is trying to lose. I'm so proud of the mentality and spirit shown to each other, that's what's building this team this year."
Stuart was expecting a scrappy game against Manly at Brookvale on Sunday.
"They're a tough footy team. They'll make the game ugly. They'll want to turn it into a real ugly style of game and we've got to go with it," he said.
"It won't be a real attractive game of footy. We've got to get down and get dirty in this one. I don't think you'll see much attack.
"It'll be a messy ugly game and we've just got to roll our sleeves up and jump into it."
NRL ROUND SEVEN
Sunday: Canberra Raiders v Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval, 2pm.
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. Emre Guler, 16. Sia Soliola, 17. Jack Murchie. Reserves: 18. Aidan Sezer, 19. Bailey Simonsson, 20. JJ Collins, 21. Hudson Young.
Manly squad: 1. Brendan Elliot, 2. Jorge Taufua, 3. Moses Suli, 4. Brad Parker, 5. Reuben Garrick, 6. Kane Elgey, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8. Toafofoa Sipley, 9. Apisai Koroisau, 10. Martin Taupau, 11. Joel Thompson, 12. Curtis Sironen, 13. Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: 14. Manase Fainu, 15. Jack Gosiewski, 16. Corey Waddell, 17. Morgan Boyle. Reserves: 18. Kelepi Tanginoa, 19. Sam Smith, 20. Lachlan Croker, 21. Taniela Paseka.