Rugby League

Canberra Raiders young guns impress at Nines as focus turns to Knights trial

They made the finals of the Auckland Nines, but Canberra Raiders hooker Kurt Baptiste is confident the fact they will play just one trial will have them ready to break their finals drought in the season proper.

Jordan Rapana scores a try for the Raiders against the Warriors in Sunday's quarter-final.
Jordan Rapana scores a try for the Raiders against the Warriors in Sunday's quarter-final. Photo: Getty Images

Canberra made the last eight of the Nines by beating Cronulla Sharks 18-6 in its final pool game on Sunday, before New Zealand eliminated them 16-8 in the quarter-finals.

But the number which mattered was zero injuries, and the Raiders will complete their pre-season preparations with a trial against Newcastle Knights at Orange on February 20.

Kurt Baptiste and Paul Vaughan in action against the Warriors on Sunday.
Kurt Baptiste and Paul Vaughan in action against the Warriors on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

The arrival of Knights signing Adam Clydsdale has given Baptiste added competition to retain the bench hooker spot he filled behind English rake Josh Hodgson last year.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has already indicated the likes of young half Lachlan Croker could also push for a utility spot.


The Raiders young guns impressed at the Nines, with Australian Schoolboy Jack Williams proving why he is so highly rated.

Young forward Luke Bateman, who is expected to move to the front row this season, did his chances no harm, while Papua New Guinean outside back Kato Ottio also impressed.

Halfback Sam Williams was a standout throughout as he continues his battle with Aidan Sezer for the Raiders No.7 jersey.

Raiders record holder Jason Croker was feeling every day of his 42 years after he played both matches on Sunday.

He said Stuart would have a tough job finalising his best 17, particularly in the outside backs.

"He's going to have his work cut out, there's a lot to choose from," he said.

"There'll be plenty of pressure on players to perform, which is good for the team.

"He played really well Jack [Williams], Ottio, Luke Bateman ... I don't want to single anyone out but it was such a good effort."

After he joined fellow Raiders great Ken Nagas in playing the Nines, Croker indicated Ruben Wiki is a possibility to be the next cab off the rank.

Wiki, who played 311 games for the Raiders and Warriors, is part of New Zealand's coaching staff but the Warriors declined his request to play for them this season as they were desperate to win a maiden title.

"Maybe Ruben wants to carry the flag next year but who's it going to be, for the Warriors or the Raiders?," Croker said.

"He wanted to play this year but they knocked it on the head I think the Warriors, because they want to win it.

"He'd do a better job than most of them out there."

The Nines suited Baptiste's running game to the ground and his speed set up a handful of Raiders tries.

"All the young guys had a dig and they all went really well out there, that's the pleasing thing," Baptiste said.

"There's obviously competition for spots which is really healthy, not just hooker but every position and that's what Ricky has pushed this pre-season.

"I'm just trying my best to get into that top 17 come round one.

"We do a lot of combination stuff at training but I think the one trial is enough, and we'll be ready to go in round one."