Rugby League


Kurt Baptiste set to debut with the Canberra Raiders

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is contemplating another late selection shake-up, with former Brisbane Broncos hooker Kurt Baptiste set to make his NRL club debut for Canberra from the bench.

But Stuart will wait until hours before kick-off to decide if representative forward Josh Papalii is fit to return for Saturday's must-win match against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown.

The Raiders have taken a squad of 20 to Campbelltown, Stuart keeping his options open. But it's understood Baptiste, who joined the Raiders from the Broncos this season, will be injected onto the bench after impressive form with Souths Logan in the Queensland Cup.

Baptiste was a former Junior Kangaroos representative and under-20s hooker of the year in 2011, bursting on to the scene with five NRL games for the Broncos before requiring a shoulder reconstruction.

The 23-year-old came to Canberra on a one-year incentive deal looking for a chance and it seems he will finally get it on Saturday night.

Stuart made a number of late changes against the Bulldogs last weekend, notably shifting star fullback Anthony Milford to the bench and handing 18-year-old winger Brenko Lee his debut.


Stuart was again keeping his cards close to his chest. Papalii has trained with the Raiders this week, but Stuart is wary of bringing him back too early from the problematic ankle injury that has hindered him all season.

"I've got a squad of 20 players and I'll make a decision [Saturday]," Stuart said. "There's blokes I've got to see how they pull up in the morning."

Meanwhile, Raiders centre Jack Wighton insists his focus is on club form despite training with NSW Origin in the lead-up to Game II and receiving the endorsement of coach Laurie Daley.

Injuries have opened the door for a possible debut in Origin III, incumbent centre Michael Jennings ruled out with a torn back muscle and Origin I hero Josh Morris no certainty to return from a knee injury. 

With the series already wrapped up, it looms as an ideal chance for Daley to inject fresh blood. 

"I'm not thinking about it one bit, I'm just thinking about playing for the club,'' 21-year-old Wighton said.

"I feel like if I'm trying my very best here [Canberra] and doing everything I can my time will come, it'll work itself out.

"I still can't wipe the smile off my face even though I only trained with them, I got nervous just knowing I was going to be around them. One of my favourite things was seeing how they operate and what they're like on the field.

"My main focus is the club at the moment. We're trying to turn it around and I think we can do it if we stick together.''

Wighton admitted he wasn't fully happy with his performance in Canberra's 22-14 home loss to Canterbury last week, when his new-look edge partnership with rookie winger Lee was exposed by the Bulldogs on a couple of occasions.

"I'm definitely trying to get more involved and I have little lapses here and there I need to get out of my game,'' he said. 

"I didn't even know Laurie was there [watching from the stands] until after the game. If that [Origin] comes along I'll be more than over the moon, but I'm doing my best here first.''


NRL round 16: Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders at Campbelltown Stadium, 5.30pm. TV: Live on Fox Sports 1.