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Ricky's Raiders dare to dream ahead of Knights showdown

Darren Pateman/AAP PHOTOS

Ricky Stuart says he's almost felt like apologising for his Canberra side reaching the NRL finals, such much have his side's chances of beating Newcastle been written off.

But the Canberra mentor has a message for those who think his team is just making up the numbers: "We're allowed to dream too".

After limping to an eighth-place finish on the ladder with one win in their final four outings, they travel to the Hunter to take on the competition's hottest side in the Knights, who have won nine straight.

With his side boasting the second-worst points differential among teams to reach finals in the last 20 years - and missing key trio Josh Papali'i, Sebastian Kris and Corey Horsburgh - Stuart said his troops will continue to battle regardless of the odds.

"We'll just go and do our best," he said.

"You feel like apologising because we're in the semis - we're allowed to dream too.

"These guys have been scrapping and dragging all year and they certainly deserve the position they are in right now in regards to making the semi-finals.

"Now it's up to us. We're not expected to win, there's no expectation on us.

"It's probably one of the easiest semi-finals that I've had as a coach because it's the first time going into a game we're just written off for another week."

Without Horsburgh and Papali'i, the Raiders' forward pack features three 21-year-olds in Ata Mariota (16 NRL appearances), Trey Mooney (four) and Hohepa Puru (one).

It leaves a huge job for experienced leaders such as Joe Tapine and Elliott Whitehead to stop the lights being too bright for their rookies.

"We're not expected to go out there and win, so I'm not going to be putting any extra pressure on the boys," Stuart said.

"I just want them to go and get some experience, learn what it's like to play in a semi-final in front of a big crowd.

"Newcastle people love their rugby league, they'll be very passionate and hostile ... it's a good fun environment to be involved in."

If there's any positive in Canberra's recent form it's that they've pushed finals-bound Brisbane and Cronulla for large parts of their last two outings, only to fall away after having a player sent from the field.

"Broncos, it was an unfortunate situation there where we had a player sent to the bin and it just puts a lot of strain against a great team," Stuart said.

"Then losing Sebby (Kris) last week in a crucial part of the game (against Cronulla) was tough," Stuart said

"I've been really happy with our first 50, 60 minutes in both games."