Ashley Barnes has praised the resilience of his SG Ball squad, which has overcome the early-season sacking of four players to advance to Saturday's grand final against the Illawarra Steelers.
The Raiders junior representative coach admits the decision to terminate four players following an alleged late-night glassing incident after round one was tough on the rest of his squad, but necessary to preserve the culture of the club.
Canberra was unable to even field a full team in round two against Wests, after Caleb Esera went down in the warm up. Barnes' side ended up winning that game and ultimately qualified for the finals, beating Canterbury two weeks ago before holding on in a nailbiter against Manly last weekend.
"All of the boys that unfortunately got terminated are all good young men, [they] made a mistake," Barnes said.
"The hardest part is that they were really good friends with the players that are involved, and when your friends go through hardship, you do empathise with that.
"Fully support the decision that we made as a club. The standards and the culture that have been set from the top down, and we're driving that really hard through the junior rep program, which will hold us in good stead both short term as a squad, but also long term as a club.
"This group has shown a lot of resilience and toughness to be able to deal with distractions that have gone on and also just sharpen their focus on what's most important."
The Raiders are chasing a third SG Ball premiership at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday, and their first since 2005 when Dave Hamilton was coaching a side that included Marc Herbert and Junior Sau.
That came 10 years after the club's 1995 triumph, when the likes of Andrew McFadden, Mark McLinden and Troy Thompson took the field.
Barnes' side will need to overcome a Steelers outfit brimming with talent if it's to replicate the likes of Herbert and the Super Macs.
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Illawarra will be steered around the park by star five-eighth Junior Amone, who has been named in Anthony Griffin's 21-man NRL squad for Sunday's clash between the Dragons and Wests Tigers.
"We played them earlier on in the year, we beat them here 36-10 and since then they haven't lost," Barnes said.
"They've turned things around, they're very much in form. They've got a good side across the park, they've got some lethal attackers.
[Amone] played a couple of NRL trials at the start of the year, he's a really good attacker. They've got Tyrell Sloane who plays really well with Junior Amone.
"Both of those guys are NRL development players. They're definitely ones we'll be keeping an eye on, they can exploit people that don't do their jobs or if there's a lazy effort. They don't miss much those two boys."