It wasn’t that long ago Ricky Stuart was having to plead with Canberra fans for patience.
Now, he is rewarding them in bucketloads.
The Raiders will on Friday night try to qualify for two straight preliminary finals for the first time since Stuart was the club’s star player in the mid-1990s.
When Stuart returned to Canberra as coach in 2014 he learned quickly he was going to have to do it the long way.
James Tedesco, Michael Ennis, Josh Mansour and Michael Ennis all rejected – or in the case of Tedesco backflipped – on his approaches in the space of a few months.
“I am not a patient person and I was asking for it because we had to do it another way here,” Stuart said on Thursday.
“We couldn’t just go out and buy rep players, we had to produce our own and generate our own momentum.
“I have said all along you need representative players, you need 100-gamers, to have success in your performance.
“That’s what’s been building at the club.”
In his seven seasons at the Raiders, Stuart did not buy a top-tier representative player from an NRL rival until Corey Harawira-Naera arrived from Canterbury this year.
As has regularly been noted, he turned his attention to England where Elliott Whitehead has been able to lure out the biggest band of Brits in years.
But Stuart’s talent is still home grown.
Of the 36 players to have run out for Canberra this year, only 14 have played for another NRL club.
And only Dunamis Lui and Sia Soliola had played more than 40 for other NRL clubs, with even Soliola arriving after five years in England.
It’s showing, with Joe Tapine to become the eighth member of their squad to play 100 games at the Raiders, giving them more club centurions than any of the other five remaining teams.
“Continuity comes from playing regular games back-to-back to get used to playing with each other,” Stuart said.
“Others have grown into representative players and grown off the back of each other’s style of game here at the club.
“That part of the journey – albeit it’s been a number of years – has been great to be a part of.
“And now we have some great combinations.”
Stuart knows though it won’t come easy this week in the grand-final rematch.
The Raiders have harped on all week that another slow start like they had against Cronulla will kill them, and they must get a fair share of the ball early.
“My biggest fear is us,” Stuart said.
“If we turn up and play our best game of football we will be in the fight. If we don’t turn up and have individuals play their best game we won’t win any game.”