Ricky Stuart said the Canberra Raiders' first grand final appearances in 25 years was born not just out of the previous 25 rounds this season, but rather forged in the fires of bitter disappointments of the past two seasons.
A typically gutsy defensive display helped the Raiders to the Telstra Premiership decider after they held on to defeat South Sydney 16-10 in front of 26,567 at GIO Stadium.
Canberra were forced to repel wave after wave of Rabbitohs attackers after they edged ahead just after half-time thanks to a fortunate bounce for Jack Wighton.
Multiple sets on their own line were further compounded when Canberra fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul with just over 10 minutes left to play.
Stuart said that kind of determination can only come from a side as closely knit as the Raiders of 2019.
"Hasn't been just this year, it's been years of hard work and disappointments and a lot of lows to get the opportunity of playing in a grand final," Stuart said.
"I couldn't be more proud of those blokes in that change room, they've got the opportunity to create a bit of their own history.
Match: Raiders v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
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- LIVE PASS
"We're only half way there, we've got another game to play and by no means we'll be looking too far ahead.
"We've got a week of preparation and we're going to be playing a very classy football team, Melbourne or Roosters."
Despite defending like their football lives depended on it, Stuart said the side can reach another level with the ball in hand next Sunday at ANZ Stadium.
"I think we can certainly attack a little bit better but defensively, you can’t defend like that if you don't believe in each other and don't have the trust and camaraderie," he said.
"It's not just defensive strategy and structures, you've got to have trust and if you're not mates with each other, there's no trust."
The Raiders do have concerns heading into grand final week, with Josh Papalii put on report for a high shot on Souths fullback Adam Doueihi and Joey Leilua failing to finish the game with a lower leg injury.
Regardless, the growing maturity Stuart and senior players have spoken about all season will be further put to the test as the glare of grand final week shines on the nation's capital.
"I want the players to enjoy this week, to embrace the hype and the understanding of the celebrations of being in a grand final," Stuart said.
"If you want to be a big-time player, you've got to handle that hype.
Papalii placed on report for tackle on Doueihi
"The guys who are consistently good in semi-finals and those kinds of arenas, they embrace those kinds of arenas."
Played in front of a near-record crowd, Stuart gave credit to the Raiders fans who created an intimidating atmosphere for the Rabbitohs in what was arguably the most important NRL game in GIO Stadium history.
"I don't say it lightly that there's a wonderful relationship between the Canberra Raiders and the community," he said.
"We're very much a community-driven club and they repaid us tonight, they really helped us get over the line tonight."