Rugby League

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says Sisa Waqa's finishing and experience equally important

Fijian flyer Sisa Waqa's try-scoring ability was on display during the Auckland Nines, but Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says using his premiership experience to help develop his young teammates will be equally valuable.

Stuart said a specialist's report will decide whether workhorse lock Shaun Fensom will make a remarkable recovery from a knee reconstruction in early August to play in the Raiders' final pre-season trial and be fit for round one of the NRL season.

Sisa Waqa scored a try against the Titans and set up two against the Tigers during the Auckland Nines.
Sisa Waqa scored a try against the Titans and set up two against the Tigers during the Auckland Nines. Photo: Getty Images

Waqa gave Raiders fans a glimpse of his finishing skills with a great solo try against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday and he almost grabbed a second, but he went into touch just before he grounded the ball as he dived for the corner.

Waqa, 28, joined the Raiders for 2015 after four seasons with the Storm, which included the 2012 premiership.

Stuart said the Raiders will be fairly inexperienced out on the edges, which gave Waqa's recruitment added importance. The winger's talk on the field has been invaluable already.

"His ability as a defensive player and an attacking player, with that experience is really important for us," Stuart said.

"He's a fantastic communicator on the footy field too, that's something that our younger players are really enjoying, the fact that he's got that experience and he does talk very well at training and on the field.

"He's a very successful footy player. He's played in grand finals and won grand finals  and that's the sort of experience we've been missing."

While the Raiders missed out on the Nines finals, Stuart said the trip to Auckland  had been beneficial, giving young players valuable experience and not picking up injuries.

Of those youngsters, Stuart was pleased with the efforts of Luke Bateman, Kilu Pangai, Rhys Kennedy and Lachlan Croker.

He will use about 22 to 24 players for their first trial - against Waqa's old club at Griffith on Saturday - which will predominantly be made up of young players with a handful of senior ones including Joel Edwards, Josh McCrone and Glen Buttriss.

The second trial, against the Newcastle Knights at Seiffert Oval two weeks later, will be used to ensure everyone was ready for the season opener against the Cronulla Sharks at Shark Park on March 8.

Stuart said a specialist's report would determine whether Fensom would play at Seiffert or be ready for the start of the season.

He said the tireless lock's work ethic had given him a chance of returning just six months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

"The way we're tracking at the moment all of the top 25 players will  get trials," Stuart said.

"We're waiting on a specialist's report on Shaun Fensom to see where he's at and we're just waiting on that, but we're fairly confident ... we'll know over the course of the next week where Shaun's going to be at.

"We're slightly hopeful he might get the trial at Seiffert, which would be a fabulous effort."

Stuart was unsure what effect controversial new ruck interpretations would have on the game until he's seen how they're officiated during the pre-season trials.

He felt the game could not get much quicker but said Canberra had tinkered with their pre-season to ensure they could cope with any increase in the speed of play.

"Most coaches and players are waiting to see what type of interpretations they're going to bring to the game," Stuart said.

"Personally I don't think the game can get any faster, but if they interpret the rules the way they have spoken about them, it's going to be a cracking pace."

The Raiders will leave for Griffith on Thursday, although several players including Josh Papalii and David Shillington will head down early for a community carnival.