Fast start built on unbreakable spirit: Stuart

They've been one of the early success stories of the NRL season, but the origins of the five victories for the Canberra Raiders can be traced back to 2016.

That year the Raiders went tantalisingly close to the final game of the year, before they were knocked out the running by Melbourne in the preliminary final.

The heartache that night at AAMI Park sparked two years of what-if's and maybes for Canberra, but with it has come mental maturity, according to coach Ricky Stuart.

The Raiders mentor spoke of the side's growing maturity after they came from behind to beat the Broncos last weekend, a result that could have gone the way of the Broncos just a year ago.

"They've got to make choices, I've given them the platform, but some players it's taken three or four years for them to finally flick the switch," Stuart said.

"Not making the eight over the last two years after getting there in 2016 and seeing how good it is has given the players a bit of extra motivation.

"The players themselves just grow with time and age and this scenario of them winning a few football games and the hard work they have been putting in is paying off, so they're enjoying it."

Jack Wighton has been one of the primary examples of Canberra's growing maturity. Wighton's career was in the balance this time last year due to assault charges, but six weeks into this season and is leading the side around in the crucial role of five-eighth.

The 26-year-old is still learning on the run what it takes to be a primary playmaker in the NRL and is still capable of mistakes at this early stage in his shift from fullback.

However, Stuart said Wighton's ability to remain focused on the next job at hand has allowed him to pull off game-changing plays, such as his 40-20 kick against Brisbane last weekend which changed the momentum of the contest.

Joey Leilua too has benefited from the growing maturity inside the squad, with the physically imposing and skilful centre now more circumspect about when to chance his hand and when to tuck the ball under his arm.

This was never more evident than in the 29th minute against Brisbane when Leilua, showing the form that has him mentioned as a possible starter for New South Wales, brushed away four Broncos defenders to score one of the tries of the round.

Stuart spoke of the pride he has in his side given how they have stuck together through the tough times.

"I've seen many teams and club broken, going through what we've gone through the last two years," he said.

"There was all sort of comment about how we were losing tight games last year. I knew why we were losing tight games last year and it's something publicly I don't want to talk about.

"I've got to handle the individual and the group every Monday after those tight losses and when you're winning 24-0 or 16-0 and you're getting run down my job is to find out why.

"So I review that, but I've got to deal with men, young men and I can tell you it would have broken a lot of teams and football clubs having two years of putting up with that pain.

"There's not one of those boys who are trying to lose and I'm so proud of the mentality and spirit shown to each other. That's what's building this year.

"That unhappiness of not being successful and for me as a coach for them to be so strong over that two-year period has been the biggest win."

Meanwhile Stuart said another key to defeating Manly will be shutting down in-form halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.

"He plays well in every game against us and he's probably the best in the competition in getting repeat sets," he said.

"I've always admired Daly's ability and I thought he had an unfair tag on him in relation to the Origin status.

"I've always thought he was a wonderful player who's had to bide his time to play Origin football.

"He is the heart and soul of the Manly team and I know why Bob Fulton fought so hard to keep him at the club when he was making a decision to go to the Gold Coast.

"He's the backbone of that team and he's a real threat to our team."