Terry Campese trains on Thursday morning at Raiders HQ. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Terry Campese has convinced his Raiders teammates he is ready to return. All the inspirational skipper needs is the tick of approval from the club's coaching and medical staff to end a frustrating year's absence.
Campese trained strongly on Thursday and is another step closer to making his long-awaited return to the Raiders for Saturday night's match with the Warriors at Canberra Stadium.
The former Kangaroos and NSW representative has been named on an extended five-man bench, with the choice to come down between Campese or exciting teenager Anthony Milford, who made a solid first-grade debut in last week's win against the Roosters.
Two knee reconstructions and a serious groin injury has limited Campese to just eight games since the end of 2010.
Raiders hooker Matt McIlwrick is one of several players never to have lined up alongside Campese, and believes the presence of the star playmaker has boosted everyone around him.
''Just this morning, [Campese] was talking about how well he has been eating so he's obviously pretty excited to get out there and strap on the boots again,'' McIlwrick said.
''It's fantastic, especially for the young blokes. His experience and his leadership helps us out a lot.
''It's going to give the team a little bit more structure.''
McIlwrick retains the No.9 jersey with first-choice hooker Glen Buttriss recovering from a shoulder injury.
Utility Josh McCrone will also spend time at dummy half after sliding seamlessly into the role against the Roosters, allowing either Campese or Milford to move into the halves.
Veteran Shaun Berrigan is being rested this week and will not feature for the Mounties, the Raiders' NSW Cup side.
The 34-year-old is having his workload carefully managed as the Raiders prepare for back-to-back road trips following next week's bye for the representative weekend.
The Raiders take on North Queensland in Townsville on April 27 before travelling to Melbourne to face the defending premiers seven days later.
Christchurch native McIlwrick is well aware how dangerous the Warriors can be, having played alongside mercurial halfback Shaun Johnson in the Junior Kiwis team in 2010.
McIlwrick got a taste of first grade in the second half of last season, but did not waste any time adding to his four appearances with a call-up in round one.
Two games off the bench led to his first career starting appearance in the 24-22 win over the Roosters, playing mainly at dummy half but also spending time in the second row.
Representing his beloved New Zealand is his long-term goal and next Friday he will be among the 20,000-strong crowd at Canberra Stadium cheering for an upset over the Kangaroos.
''I'm a pretty one-eyed Kiwi, so I'll be down there screaming at the top of my lungs,'' McIlwrick said.
''I used to follow the Warriors when I was younger and I played with some of the younger blokes, so I'm looking forward to that opportunity.''