Rugby League

Canberra Raiders drop David Shillington and Shannon Boyd on eve of NRL

The Canberra Raiders are toying with pushing Australian representative Josh Papalii into the front row for Sunday's match against the Cronulla Sharks, dropping a selection bombshell on the eve of their NRL season by cutting props David Shillington and Shannon Boyd.

Coach Ricky Stuart maintained secrecy over his squad all last week, but part of his plans were revealed on Saturday when Shillington and Boyd were demoted to NSW Cup.

Raiders prop David Shillington won't play the season opener despite being named in the run-on side on Tuesday.
Raiders prop David Shillington won't play the season opener despite being named in the run-on side on Tuesday. Photo: Matt Bedford

Despite being named in Canberra's 17-man squad on Tuesday,  it's understood Shillington was always in the firing line as the veteran continues his comeback from serious injury and the Raiders looked to field a more mobile pack for round one.

Utility forward Jarrad Kennedy has overcome a leg injury and is likely to be one of the players added to the squad, while 20-year-old Luke Bateman is a possibility for an unexpected NRL debut.

It means Papalii, who played prop for Australia in the Four Nations tournament at the end of last year, is likely to play in the front row at some stage and possibly even start there.

Asked on Friday if he was expecting to play prop this season, Papalii said: "Obviously I get to play prop in rep but I'm not sure what [Stuart] has in mind. But it doesn't really matter where I play."

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Raiders officials did not respond to calls on Saturday to confirm or explain team changes, but it immediately raises questions about Shillington's long-term future at the club.

Shillington lost his Queensland and Australian representative jerseys last year and is off contract at the end of the season.

The 31-year-old is returning from a six-month chest injury, but played a trial match with Mounties and the Raiders in the pre-season.

Former Raiders skipper Alan Tongue was shocked Shillington had been overlooked for the season opener, given he was back to good form last year before injury struck. But Tongue backed Shillington to respond positively.

"It's always tough to take when you're a guy who's done so much in the game like Shillo has, but he's a professional sportsperson and we all face adversity and have to bounce back from it," Tongue said.

"He'll be motivated because he's looking for a new contract and wants to get his name back in the Origin arena. He's still got plenty to play for."

Veterans Terry Campese (Hull KR) and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Melbourne) were forced to move on at the end of last season after falling out of favour.

Only last month Shillington expressed his desire to re-sign long term with Canberra. His wife Sonia is expecting the couple's second child in June.

Tongue said the changes proved Canberra's increased depth, especially in the forwards. 

"I am surprised by it, but it shows Ricky is going to reward the players and if Shillo's carrying that injury still or isn't 100 per cent with his form, he'll take guys who are raring to go," Tongue said. 

"It's a big decision, especially with Brett White retired and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs gone, and I thought Shannon Boyd's last few games last year were the best he's played. 

"Ricky's made it clear he's looking for guys who can do the job, and form will get you picked over reputation.

"The Sharks aren't renowned as a huge pack, maybe he's thinking they can play up-tempo and get away without those two big guys there."

It was Stuart who first shifted Cronulla back-rower Paul Gallen to prop with great effect for NSW in State of Origin. Tongue said Papalii was built for a similar move.

"He's almost a modern day front-rower," Tongue said. "Paul Gallen can play back row or up front, Pappa is probably going to fill that mould."