Rugby League


Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has five-eighth plans for Jack Wighton

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has declared he's in for the long haul in his quest to develop Jack Wighton into a top-class five-eighth after his mixed debut against North Queensland. 

Having begun his career at centre, Stuart branded Wighton's first NRL game in the halves as encouraging and said he's prepared to be patient as the youngster makes one of the most difficult transitions in the game. 

Wighton got off to a less than auspicious start in the 28-22 round-one loss by spraying a kick out on the full. But his strength and footwork also opened up space for outside men Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee on occasion. 

Stuart saw enough potential to insist there's no need for panic stations and reaffirmed his belief the 21-year-old can make the adjustment, starting at Newcastle on Sunday night.  

''He's going to be a good player, we've got something to work with here,'' Stuart said. 

''You need to give him time, it's probably one of the most difficult positions on the field. 


''You need to have patience, and one thing he's got is a coach with patience.''

Stuart is excited at the prospect of having two running halves in his team, with halfback Terry Campese showing signs against the Cowboys he can rediscover that aspect of his game.  

''I was happy with him [Campo]. When you see a football player suck defender to you, you know they've got some ability,'' Stuart said. 

''You look at Johnathan Thurston, they don't have him we win by three tries. 

''Jack had a couple of spills at one stage and a poor kick in the first half, but that'll happen.

''He's young and playing a different position, we have to expect those types of errors. 

''The only way you get better is by playing.''

Campese backed Canberra's new-look spine to click sooner rather than later. It's potential was highlighted by the fact the Raiders stormed to a 16-0 lead over the more-fancied Cowboys in Townsville, before inexperience took its toll. 

Former halfback Josh McCrone shared the hooker duties with Glen Buttriss, while young gun Anthony Milford was outstanding in both attack and defence. 

''It was good for most of the game and we'll work on the things that let us down, my kicking game probably let me down the most,'' Campese said. 

''Jack just needs time and I thought he was good for his first game at five-eighth. 

''It's a big position and he can take some positives out of that, myself, Jack and Milford will keep working and improve.

''It [spine] is not too far away. 

''We let the two points slip away but I'm sure we can come back next week and put in a more 80-minute performance against Newcastle.'' 

The Knights have play-making issues of their own after fullback Darius Boyd (hamstring), halfback Tyrone Roberts (concussion) and hooker Kurt Gidley (concussion) all leaving the field early in their round-one loss at Penrith.