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Berrigan poised for key role as injuries mount

THE Canberra Raiders will be sweating on the fitness of hooker Matt McIlwrick as the club faces the prospect of starting the NRL season without two of its three top rakes.

Veteran utility Shaun Berrigan seems destined to start at hooker for the Raiders in the season-opener against Penrith on March 10, with coach David Furner conceding regular hooker Glen Buttriss is unlikely to recover in time from off-season ankle surgery.

McIllwrick suffered a suspected rib cartilage injury in Saturday night's combined trial against second-tier clubs Mounties and Wyong and medical staff will assess its severity in the coming days.

It leaves Berrigan, who won the Clive Churchill Medal as a hooker in Brisbane's 2006 grand final victory, as the obvious choice to start in the No.9 jersey.

The Raiders used 34 players across four 30 minute periods on Saturday night, defeating Wyong 28-0 and Mounties 12-8.

In positive news for the club, forwards Brett White and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs made their returns from injury. White played 20 minutes in his first game back since rupturing his knee in round five last season.

"He was pretty nervous before the game, but it was good to see him back and that run will be great for his confidence," Furner said.

Winger Sandor Earl scored a double as the Raiders ran in five unanswered tries in the one-hour match-up against Wyong.

Fullback Josh Dugan showed he's capable of taking over the goal-kicking duties from Jarrod Croker if required. Croker, the NRL's top point-scorer from last year, is battling to overcome a knee injury in time for round one. Dugan kicked three goals from four attempts, including two from out wide.

The Raiders used an inexperienced squad for their second hit-out against their NSW Cup feeder team, Mounties, and escaped with a 12-8 win.

The Raiders complete their trials with a game against the Bulldogs at Goulburn next Saturday.



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