The Raiders, who finished the regular season in eighth after jumping ahead of the Broncos who bombed out, had won 13 of their last 17 games heading into their semi-final clash with the Eels at CommBank Stadium, but crashed out of the premiership race in a 40-4 defeat to Parramatta.
Canberra was hamstrung before a ball was kicked in its 2022 campaign when halfback Jamal Fogarty, who the Raiders had recruited from the Titans during the off-season, suffered a knee injury that sidelined him until round 12.
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The Raiders also lost hooker Josh Hodgson to a season-ending knee injury early in their opening-round game.
They struggled to cope with the mega injury blows, slumping to 15th heading into round eight.
“We would have made the top four. Second half of the season showed that,” Stuart said in his press conference after the loss to Parramatta.
“We were only three, four wins outside of the top four.
“So, we would have made the top four, but we didn’t.
“Every team gets some bad luck, every team gets injuries.
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“I’m not sitting here crying over spilt milk.
“As I say, don’t take it away from Parramatta; they did a good job.”
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The Raiders edged the Storm 28-20 in an elimination final in Melbourne, but what followed in the Eels clash was their heaviest finals defeat in history.
Stuart spoke of his pride in his troops despite the semi-final capitulation.
“After round 12 this year, if one of you had said to me, ‘I’ll do a deal with you and can get to the second (week of the finals) and you can get flogged’, what do you reckon I was going to say?” Stuart said.
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“We were coming 11th or 12 or 15th at one stage. What these blokes have done … that game there does not define these blokes, the team, the club. I’m very proud of them. I could not be prouder of them. I could not be prouder in regards to the journey they’ve been on, the difficulties that we were confronted with. For us to get to where we did, I am very proud of them.
“Disappointed with the result? Absolutely.
“We didn’t beat ourselves; we got beaten by a better team.”
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