CANBERRA Raiders captain Jarrod Croker has lauded his team's improved mental strength in defence when closing out games as a major reason behind the club's strong start to the NRL season.
The Raiders had developed a reputation for throwing away leads, which cruelled any hope of making finals the past two seasons.
But the signs are strong they've cracked the code to solve their late match jitters, which has culminated in their best start to a season since 2005.
The Raiders are 3-1 after outclassing North Queensland 30-12 in Townsville on Saturday, but had to withstand a second half rally from the hosts after they got within six points.
It was a similar scenario the week before against Newcastle, where the Knights pressed hard late before Canberra closed out the match.
"I think (the good start to the year) is just our defensive attitude, our focus and defending mistakes well," Croker said.
"We've still made a lot of silly errors in all four games, a lot of cheap ones coming out of our own end, but the boys are just defending it and getting on with it.
"The defensive attitude and the mindset straight after has been to block it out and move on, that's been good for us closing out games.
"Teams have got to within six of us with a few minutes to go and it could go either way, but the pleasing part is we've dug our heels in."
The Raiders lost eight games by four points or less last year, including their first three by a combined five points in a 0-4 start to the season.
Sitting pretty in third spot a year on, they have an ideal chance to set up their campaign with home games against Parramatta this Sunday night, and Brisbane next weekend.
"We've had a lot of scenario-based training where we've been put under pressure in those types of situations (defending a lead late in games), and so far it's worked," Croker said.
"We're going to lose close games at some stage of the year, but being really composed in games is a positive so far.
"We've spoken about being in a more positive mindset in defence when we're on the back foot, to be more aggressive than passive."
The Raiders are hopeful halfback Aidan Sezer and back rower Joseph Tapine will be available to return from injury against fellow surprise packets the Eels.