It was almost a magical moment that could have sent the Canberra Raiders into a preliminary final and winger Edrick Lee is “filthy” they didn’t make the most of it.
But Lee is hoping the Raiders “get everything right” when they take on Penrith in a do-or-die semi-final at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.
The Raiders battered the Cronulla Sharks in the first half of their home qualifying final at the weekend, but couldn’t capitalise on their dominance.
Lee almost combined with captain Jarrod Croker for what would have been a brilliant try, but the flyer couldn’t hold on to Croker’s pass.
The lanky winger out-jumped his Cronulla opponent to take a Sam Williams bomb and offloaded to his skipper, who shot the ball back inside – intended for lock Sia Soliola – but the sharp pass hit Lee in the chest.
Croker said in the post-match press conference he hadn’t seen Lee and could have popped the ball up for his left winger.
It would have put the Raiders up by at least 16 points after just 21 minutes.
“That’s probably one thing I’m a bit filthy about, is that we missed our opportunities, but in saying that you’ve just got to make the most of them,” Lee said.
“It was a bit of an unlucky moment there. We definitely put all that behind us and are focusing on the Panthers this week and hopefully [we will] get everything right.
“Just to put that game behind us and move on because we do get another crack at it and another home game. We’re looking to perform well and get that win and move on.”
Raiders prop Joe Tapine was confident they could still go deep into the finals.
He was expecting a “different style of footy” from the Panthers with a lot of “second-phase” play and said Canberra would work on stopping that on the training track this week.
The Raiders came into the finals on the back of a 10-game winning streak to finish the regular season in second place. The front-rower is confident they can return to their winning ways.
“We’re a tight-knit bunch. We win together, we lose together. We experience everything together so we’re all good. We’ve still got the confidence and ability to take it out,” Tapine said.
Sharks veteran Luke Lewis, who has played 16 Tests for Australia and 17 State of Origins, said while the Raiders might have lost the qualifying final, they would still take a lot out of it.
The Raiders had just six players with NRL finals experience last week with a combined 16 NRL finals between them.
That figure has now doubled and most of the side that will play the Panthers has now experienced finals footy.
“I think [Saturday] night’s game will give them a little bit of a taste of what it’s about and they’ll go back to the drawing board and [Raiders coach Ricky Stuart] will get them on the money again,” Lewis said.
“They know now what it’s about and they’ve got a lot of young kids. They’re going to be there for years, they’re going to be an outstanding side. I wouldn’t be writing them off just yet.”
Raiders prop Junior Paulo was one of the 11 Canberra players making their finals debut last week. He agreed they would take a lot out of the loss.
“It was a good experience to get a feel of what finals footy is like. It’s definitely a different brand of footy – it’s a tougher and more mentally tougher game than it is playing in the regular season,” Paulo said.
“It’s good for a lot of us to get a feel for what’s in store so hopefully this Saturday we’ll be able to learn from last week.”
Saturday: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available at Ticketek.