NRL finals guru Stuart chases prelim spot

·2-min read

A quite remarkable coaching record will go on the line when Canberra's Ricky Stuart leads his side into battle against Parramatta in Friday night's semi-final.

A Stuart-coached side has never been knocked out of the NRL post-season before a preliminary final, the Raiders mentor boasting a perfect 7-0 record.

They handled the first half of the equation with a gutsy 28-20 win in Melbourne last Saturday, but are once again underdogs for their trip to CommBank Stadium to take on the Eels.

More importantly a win against the Eels would see the Raiders play their third preliminary final in four years, a feat the club hasn't achieved since 1994-1997 when the team was stacked with legendary talents including Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Jason Croker and Stuart himself.

Stuart said standards were improving club-wide, and credited his players with making that possible.

"Players make coaches, I'm very fortunate I've got a great bunch of blokes I coach and a very tough bunch," Stuart told reporters.

"There's a lot of skill there and I remember many years ago saying that we need to grow our own representative players here.

"When you look through the team now it's littered with players who will be involved in this World Cup and you need that to win big games."

It's almost impossible to view the semi-final as anything but a colossal battle in the middle, where Canberra will look to red-hot duo Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii to match it with Parramatta's Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

But the Raiders have been forced to tweak their pack due to Adam Elliott's pelvis injury, with Ryan Sutton recalled after recovering from finger surgery.

Corey Harawira-Naera has been named at lock in Elliott's absence, set to shift from his usual bench utility role and start in front of Sutton.

Stuart was shattered for Elliott, but said Sutton's recovery might be another sign of things starting to fall the Raiders' way.

"The club has given (Elliott) the opportunity to show everybody what type of person he is, I knew what type of bloke he was," he said.

"He's really made this a season winner for him because he's got back on the right foot, he's in a really good position of his life.

"I might have jumped the gun on the medical team, I thought that Ryan wasn't going to be a chance of playing again.

"That's the little bit of luck you need ... losing an experienced player such as Adam and then being able to substitute in with an experienced player such as Ryan."