Ricky Stuart won’t care if no-one gives his Canberra team a chance against Melbourne next week.
Because, to put it bluntly, it hasn’t worried him all NRL season.
Few gave the Raiders a hope in their knockout semi-final against the Sydney Roosters on Friday night.
Again though, they proved the critics wrong with their 22-18 win at the SCG.
Canberra have now won 11 of their last 13 since Josh Hodgson became their fifth middle to suffer a serious injury this season in their round 10 loss to Melbourne.
At that point, the Raiders’ season was meant to be over, with even Stuart conceding he could understand why those on the outside were ready to write them off.
They are now one win out from their second straight grand final, despite having one of the most taxing years in the league both on and off the field.
Which is why when Canberra again start as rank outsiders against the Storm on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium, the Raiders won’t be fazed by the doubters.
“We’re used to that,” Stuart said.
“I’m proud of our players and how they have handled this season.
“Nobody knows from outside our bubble how hard it was for us at the start of the season.
“Where we’ve got to today, no one gave us a chance but our own.
“Nobody has given us an opportunity to show what’s underneath the jumper.
“They’re not just a team of footballers. They are more than a team.”
If anything, Stuart believes his team have been stronger for their challenges.
Josh Papalii has gone to another level, and if he isn’t the best front-rower in the competition, he’s the most influential.
Joseph Tapine is living up to his potential at lock, regularly topping 150 metres per game while the likes of Hudson Young and Dunamis Lui continue to stand up.
“It was a very critical part of our season, Josh Hodgson down plus three very influential middles,” Stuart said.
“Having Hodgo not play has made people take a little more ownership of the team, losing a world-class player like Josh.
“I understand why right then people said the season is over. I get that. But they don’t see blokes like (hookers) Siva (Havili) and Tommy Starling.”
Stuart is also seeing his halves defy the critics.
After they dropped three out of four games early in the year, critics questioned if the pair would work together.
Now they are regularly linking for tries at the right end of the year.
“At the start of the year I was told I wasn’t going to work because I had two running halves,” Stuart said.
“People think because of the rule changes it has helped us. That’s not true.
“George Williams is not just a running half. He can organise the game. He’s been sitting on the ruck and organising the game for a number of weeks.
“I was always confident Jack and George were going to be a wonderful combination.
“They use one another well and are both wonderful defenders on the edge.
“I wouldn’t swap those two for any of the halves in the game.”