Rugby League

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart faces 'welcome' selection headache

It's a headache Ricky Stuart, or the Raiders for that matter, haven't had for a long time - the prospect of telling deserved players they won't be picked for round one. 

But Canberra's head coach won't be reaching for the Panadol any time soon, dubbing it a good headache to have after the Raiders ran riot early in Saturday's trial win over Newcastle at Orange. 

In his first game for Canberra, new halfback Aidan Sezer combined well with English hooker Josh Hodgson who was arguably best afield before he was taken off just before half-time. 

Canberra gave up 28 unanswered points after leading 34-0, but the early blitz where they fielded as close to their planned round one team as possible, pleased Stuart. 

The most exciting part for the Raiders is they still have to make room for Jack Wighton (back) and Dally M five-eighth of the year Blake Austin (shoulder) in the team to play Penrith at Canberra Stadium on March 5. 

Lock Shaun Fensom is also expected to be fit to play, despite sitting out the trial after breaking his arm during the off-season. 

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Recruits Sezer and Elliott Whitehead were among Canberra's best and in his third year in charge, Stuart suddenly has a plethora of options at his disposal. 

"They [Austin, Wighton and Fensom] will all all be fit and healthy, it's just a case now of picking a squad for round one," Stuart said.

"I haven't had it [selection dilemma] for a long time, I'm very happy with this headache. I've had different types of headaches, but I'm happy with this one." 

Although they don't appear too serious, neck injuries to prop Shannon Boyd and outside back Sisa Waqa could give Stuart a migraine. 

Although the Raiders are a little light on in the front row, Jordan Rapana is a quality replacement for Waqa should he not be fit for round one. 

Stuart was particularly happy with Hodgson's performance who looked like he had been playing with Sezer for years, not just half an hour. 

"I think he's a wonderful player," Stuart said. "Josh can control the game from nine how the good hookers can, he didn't overplay his hand at all and when he jumps out he identifies the right time.

"I'm a big fan of Josh Hodgson's and he's a big part of our team. Sezer was good, it's hard to replicate that intensity at training and we'll tweak some things. 

"We've been talking about having depth because you train and compete better at training and that's so important for us at this stage."

Sezer said he was pleased to blow out the cobwebs with his new side. 

"There's a few little things we can touch up on before round one but it showed a lot of promise," Sezer said.  

"The good thing about the Raiders and the style that play is even without Jack and Blake there we still managed to score a few points. 

"Them coming back into the team will add some more class."

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