Rugby League


Canberra Raiders and Newcastle prepare for tough game

Newcastle is missing its two biggest attacking weapons, but Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has squared off with Wayne Bennett enough to know his teams thrive on adversity. 

Stuart has warned his young side to expect a hostile reception from a Knights pack he rates one of the toughest in the NRL at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night. 

With key playmaker Jarrod Mullen (hamstring) sidelined for the long term, Newcastle  has been forced into a reshuffle after a hamstring injury to star fullback Darius Boyd in its round one loss to Penrith. 

Stuart is preparing for the Knights to adopt a similar siege mentality which Manly, minus Brett and Glenn Stewart, used to shock premiership favourite Souths on Friday night. 

Kurt Gidley has overcome concussion to replace Boyd at fullback, with former Raider Travis Waddell to start at hooker. 

Asked if the home side's key omissions changed his game plan Stuart said: "No. It's their first game at home, they're coming off a loss as well and I know Wayne's very good at getting his teams up under adverse conditions.


"They're quite a tough team with Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott. They're tough football players and they play for keeps, it'll be a good test for our young blokes in the forwards.''

The Raiders will field an unchanged team to that which lost 28-22 to North Queensland in Townsville, with centre Jarrod Croker (quadriceps) passed fit. 

However, the NRL's leading point scorer last year will hand over the goal kicking reins to fullback Anthony Milford. 

Milford and Reece Robinson assumed goal-kicking duties after Croker aggravated the ongoing issue against the Cowboys scoring a long-range try. 

"He'll play, but he won't be goal kicking,'' Stuart said. 

"It'll probably be Anthony and Reece the back-up, they've been doing a lot of practice this week with [former Canterbury kicker] Daryl Halligan.

"It's not a bad thing, we're getting some kicking experience into other guys and we can always rely on Toots [Croker] for that.

"I wouldn't risk him at this stage, he's been passed medically fit.''

Stuart backed Jack Wighton to improve further on his five-eighth debut. 

"We're playing a completely different type of game, our entire structure and shape has changed and for game one, I couldn't be more pleased,'' he said.

Raiders skipper Terry Campese branded criticism of Wighton's display unfair.

"I think it was just one or two mistakes everyone looks at, but if you watch the rest of his game his defence was outstanding and he saved two tries on our own line,'' Campese said. 

"The way he ran the ball was outstanding, I thought people were quite harsh on the way he played but he's better for the run this week.''

Stuart  said back-up hooker Josh McCrone could play a similar role to Gidley at the Knights, with utilities on the bench becoming more crucial as rule changes  sped up the game. 

NSW coach Stuart rang McCrone to tell him he was in contention to play bench utility when Gidley was out injured. 

"It'll take a little while to get used to the speed of the game. Most games last week were much faster,'' Stuart said. 

"Josh is in a completely different role and learning how to make 30-odd tackles, and also attack off that.

"Kurt's a fierce competitor, I've been fortunate to coach him and he's a bit like Josh for us.''