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Dejected Canberra players in their loss to Manly.

"We'd be in the grand final if it was down to courage and effort - unfortunately, it's not only that."

Those words from coach Ricky Stuart summed up Canberra's gritty yet heartbreaking 19-18 loss to Manly at Suncorp Stadium.

The Raiders were physically dominant in the first half and led 12-0 at the break, but with a top-eight spot on the line, they weren't able to hold off a Sea Eagles team that took time to warm up on Friday night.

But despite staying in ninth place for the time being with just two rounds remaining, Stuart hasn't lost any admiration for his battered side.

"Getting to that position at half-time was a wonderful effort and then a couple of little things just went against us," he said.

"[Manly] are a good footy team, they'll be there in the top four and that's why they're going to be fighting for the big one."

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Stuart was dejected in his post-match media conference after Manly scored three consecutive tries and kicked a field goal to sew up victory before Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad crossed for a late four-pointer.

"I win with them and lose with them," he said of his players.

"They're all disappointed and I'm with them at the moment. It's hard losing that way when you put so much courage and effort into 80 minutes of footy.

"I couldn't be more proud with the squad. I don't say it lightly, I don't say it trying to be a suck or anything," he added.

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"But I'm very proud of the blokes who just throw the jumper on and then all of a sudden see themselves as a Raider and play with that courage and bravery.

"That's why I love coaching them. But there were times tonight where we needed a bit more."

Nicoll-Klokstad's return after suffering a neck injury in round five was positive for Canberra as he got through a 25-minute stint.

Injected at fullback, Nicoll-Klokstad made an error with his first touch from a kick return but Stuart was forgiving.

"It was good to see him back out there. I grabbed him at the end of it and said, 'Don't beat yourself up over that'," Stuart said.

"These things happen, it happens to everyone. We showed we bounced back from it and just weren't there at the end."

Jordan Rapana filled the custodian's role until Nicoll-Klokstad was brought on and Stuart labelled the veteran "unbelievable".

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"I was obviously sitting higher [in the coach's box] tonight and the work he was doing off the football was just extraordinary," he said.

"Why was he doing it? That's what [Manly halfback Daly] Cherry-Evans makes you do.

"If you want to defend with a full line, the fullback's got a lot more pressure on him because he's got to cover both sides of the footy field.

"[If] You want to drop back on tackle four and protect your backfield, they're going to threaten you on the edges and create opportunities the way they have been over the last four, five, six weeks.

"We defended with the full line tonight and it put extra pressure on Jordie and he did a marvellous job there while he was at fullback."