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Canberra keeps its focus on Panthers

Sam Williams at Raiders training on Thursday with some newly-decorated training gear.

Sam Williams at Raiders training on Thursday with some newly-decorated training gear. Photo: Colleen Petch

This picture proves the Panthers are already squarely in the Canberra Raiders' firing line 10 days out from their round one clash.

And the Green Machine could have their best sharp-shooter on board, with Jarrod Croker's recovery from knee surgery well ahead of schedule.

After straining his right medial ligament in the trial win over Melbourne on February 9, Croker was warned he was likely to miss one or two rounds.

Jarrod Croker's recovery is ahead of schedule.

Jarrod Croker's recovery is ahead of schedule. Photo: Colleen Petch

The Raiders trained in driving rain on Thursday, with pictures of Penrith's players plastered on their fitness drill equipment. And last year's NRL-leading points scorer is growing more optimistic he will battle the Panthers in the flesh on March 10.

''The original plan from the physio was probably round two or three, I'm definitely ahead of that,'' Croker said.

''[But] they're not going to let me play if I'm 95 per cent. If I get through training next week and I'm 100 per cent, I'll play. If not they'll scratch me and put me in the weekend after.''

The 22-year-old has displayed incredible durability since his first grade debut in 2009, playing 95 of a possible 97 games for the Raiders.

But having watched Terry Campese and Brett White's long and torturous recoveries from knee injuries, Croker isn't willing to put himself in jeopardy.

''I'll be real filthy if I miss next week, but … there's probably been times over the last couple of years when I've been a bit busted and still played,'' he said.

''I'm going to be smart about it, it's round one and there's 25 more rounds after that, so I have to look at the big picture.

''I'd rather miss one week than do something those guys [Campese and White] have, it's been pretty tough watching them and I can't imagine how tough it is.

''I've had a week or two in rehab and I hate it. I can't imagine how they go through nine months or even longer.

''It's disappointing if I have to miss a game and wait a bit longer, but if you look at the big picture it could be a lot worse.''

Croker trained on an exercise bike in the rain on Thursday, but has begun running and is hopeful of rejoining contact sessions next week.

Should he be ruled out of the Panthers clash, fullback Josh Dugan is expecting to assume goalkicking duties. But Dugan hasn't trained this week after missing last Saturday's trial against the Bulldogs with a slight ankle sprain.

Jack Wighton is the logical replacement for Croker, should he recover in time from a sprained wrist.

Raiders lock Shaun Fensom said new strength and conditioning coach Nigel Ashley-Jones used the Panthers players' pictures to lighten the mood after an arduous off-season.

''He just wanted to remind us the start of the competition is only 10 days away and they're the first blokes they're coming across, just to let us know they're watching,'' he laughed.

''It's just a bit of humour to break up training, the fitness component especially can get a bit boring and mundane.

''The boys got a laugh, and maybe they trained a bit harder.''

ROUND ONE: Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders, at Centrebet Stadium, Sunday, March 10, 2pm. TV Time: Live on Fox Sports 1. Tickets available from proticket.com.au.

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