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Canberra players have vowed to continue to defy critics as the undermanned Raiders adopt a backs-to-the-wall approach to Sunday’s elimination final against the Knights in Newcastle.

After sitting in fourth place at the end of Round 20, the Raiders won just two of their last seven matches to finish eighth, but captain Jarrod Croker said few people outside of Canberra had given them much chance of playing finals at all.

“People seem shocked that we are there, but we have pretty much been in the top eight for the past 10 or 12 weeks,” Croker said.

“We have played in four of the last five finals series, so I don’t know why people expected us to fall out this year but down in Canberra we have got plenty of belief and the fans down there are really excited for us.”

Canberra captain Jarrod Croker with Newcastle's Tyson Frizell at the NRL finals launch
Canberra captain Jarrod Croker with Newcastle's Tyson Frizell at the NRL finals launch ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The Raiders will be without winger Sebastian Kris after he accepted a five-match ban for a dangerous throw in last Sunday’s 24-6 loss to Cronulla and he joins representative forwards Josh Papali’i and Corey Horsburgh on the sidelines.

Papali’i has been ruled out for the season with a biceps injury, while Horsburgh will not be available again this season unless Canberra make the grand final after last week receiving a four-match suspension for a shoulder charge.

“It’s been a rollercoaster season, but we got here,” Croker said.

“A couple of moments the last two weeks, with blokes going to the sin bin [Horsburgh] and being sent off [Kris] has made those games a bit hard for us, but I thought we competed really well.

Croker: It's been a special ride

“We have lost Papa and Big Red, and now Seb as well, so that makes it harder again, but it’s backs against the wall and we will be ready to go.

“There is virtually nothing to lose for us and while it’s disappointing not to get a home semi we would still have been playing for our lives, so we have got to go up there with all guns blazing.”

The loss of Kris could open the way for Croker, who is retiring at the end of the season, to finish his career in the starting side after being overlooked for the match against the Sharks and playing just three minutes against the Broncos.

However, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart may opt for winger Albert Hopoate to replace Kris, who is also likely to be unavailable for New Zealand selection in the end-of-season Pacific Championships.

“Seb is obviously disappointed and upset,” Croker said. “He is a good kid and we will get him through it.

Seb Kris gets sent off

“He has had a really good season. At the start he got thrown into the fullback role, which is somewhere he hadn’t really played before, and he was getting better by the week.

“He has probably been one of our top three or four players this season so it will be a disappointing way for him to finish but he has got a bright future.

“He is still young, he is learning a lot and he has shown this year that he can cover a lot of positions as well so he is going to be a valuable member of the team going forward and we will get around him when we can.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.