Stuart admits Cotric better than anyone expected

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart doesn't mind admitting he was wrong about the potential impact Nick Cotric was about to make in the Telstra Premiership when he debuted in 2017.

Now as the explosive winger gets set to play his 50th NRL game, Stuart spoke glowingly of Cotric as a player and a person, and how he has exceeded expectations.

"I think he's surprised us all the way he's transitioned from under 20s player into an NRL player," Stuart said.

"And I've said this story before that I originally said to Nick before his first season, if he can get four or five games it is going to be a really good debut.

"A good initial start to his career and played every game, so that's how good a judge I was with all of this.

"I say this quite a lot, if players enjoy playing with you and want you in their team, that's your best benchmark in regards to being an NRL player, and I know they all loving having Nick in the team."

Raiders winger Nick Cotric.
Raiders winger Nick Cotric. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Stuart also responded to last week's criticism from Wayne Bennett, who questioned the Raiders coach's comments about being "not as proud" of the game because of recent off-field incidents.

"Wayne Bennett's irrelevant to me, so are comments he makes," Stuart said.

Cotric has scored 28 tries in his 49 games, earned Rookie of the Year honours, led the competition for tackle busts last year and has been named in the Emerging Blues squad, all before his 21st birthday.

However, the small but significant milestone won't be as sweet for the Raiders winger if they can't turn back the Melbourne Storm on Friday night.

After keeping the Gold Coast scoreless in round one, Stuart wants to see how his side reacts mentally when, rather than if, the Storm score.

"Well it's only one game. But you've got to start somewhere so I'm not hiding the fact that I was very happy with our defence," Stuart said of last week's 21-0 drubbing of the Titans.

"But it was tough conditions in the rain and a lot of spilt ball. We're playing against a lot of a different football game this weekend. Our line is going to be broken."

Jordan Rapana's early return to the side has given the Raiders a massive boost, though Stuart was quick to pay tribute to the professionalism of rookie Bailey Simonsson, who was forced to make way for the New Zealand international.

"He (Rapana) has added a little bit more energy around the joint now he's playing but he's coming to replace Bailey who did a wonderful job in his debut," Stuart said.

"He really showed his class this week when I spoke to him about Rapa coming back. He is a big part of our squad young Bailey, and the way you handle the situation with Jordan coming back was a credit to himself."

Stuart also gave his side the green light to back themselves in attack rather than taking too cautious an approach against a Melbourne side that traditionally chokes teams out of contests.

"Patience to a degree, but you have to take the chances in regard to your attack with Melbourne because they don't give you a lot of opportunities," he said.

"I believe our team has got wonderful instinctive abilities to attack with the football, we've just going to get out defence right."