Raiders captain Terry Campese has been left out of the side for the trip to Cronulla. Photo: Getty Images
Canberra Raiders skipper Terry Campese has been overlooked for selection for Sunday's trip to Cronulla, despite indications he will be fit to return from an abdominal injury.
Coach Ricky Stuart may have offered a glimpse of the future by naming Jack Wighton at fullback in a selection shock, paving the way for Jeremy Hawkins to debut.
Centre Jarrod Croker has also been awarded the co-captaincy for the first time alongside Josh McCrone for a game likely to decide the wooden spoon.
The Raiders have officially listed Campese for a return in round 25 or 26 on their injury list, but it's understood he is considered ready for selection.
Campese will have a fitness test later this week to determine his availability for the NRL or NSW Cup feeder club Mounties but the five-eighth has effectively been dropped after Stuart named McCrone and youngster Anthony Milford as his starting halves.
His omission throws further doubt over his immediate future, with the former NSW Origin and Australia representative under pressure to retain his captaincy and spot in the squad next year.
The 30-year-old is off contract at the end of next season, and admitted last week his manager had negotiated with the Raiders about a potential release to link with Hull FC.
Regular centre Wighton replaces the injured Jordan Rapana at fullback, ruled out for the season with a fractured skull.
Canberra are searching for a fullback to replace Brisbane-bound Milford next year. Wighton's selection in the No. 1 jersey could provide a left-field alternative should he excel there.
The 21-year-old has now been chosen in every position in the Raiders back-line other than half-back.
The Raiders succeeded in their second attempt this year to be granted permission by the NRL to play Hawkins.
Hawkins was denied a first grade debut against Gold Coast in round 18 after the NRL turned down the Raiders request for an exemption after they had reached the limit of their $440,000 second tier salary cap.
McCrone and Croker were named co-captains after vice-captain Brett White was also ruled out with an injured groin, with Kyle O'Donnell his replacement.
It could be a pointer to who leads the club should Campese not feature in the NRL side next year.
With White to retire at the end of the season, McCrone, Croker and injured lock Shaun Fensom would be the obvious candidates to lead one of the NRL's youngest teams.
Fensom has long been rated a future Raiders skipper, but the fact he may not return from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament until a few weeks into next season may work against him.
Former skipper Alan Tongue said Canberra could benefit from a co-captaincy system next year.
Tongue retired with one year left on his contract after 2011, when Campese was installed as co-captain so he could learn the ropes.
"I knew my time was coming at the back end and I wanted Campo to be alongside, because I was thinking about the future of the club,'' Tongue said. "Maybe it could be a similar situation next year.
"The standouts are Fensom and Croker, but at the end of the day it's going to take more than just one guy to lead the organisation, it's going to fall on a number of people.
"Those guys have already done plenty in the game, but one of the dangers is how it affects their football and you don't want to take anything away from what they do on the field.''
He added the felt for Campese in his current plight given the huge injury hurdles he's had to overcome.
"This is what the game can do, it can cruel anybody at any time. He's had to come back many times and to be put in this situation, I really feel for him,'' he said.
"He's been such a great leader at the club and he's probably down on form and confidence at the moment. I think he's still got so much value to give to the organisation.''
NRL round 24: Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders at Remondis Stadium, 2pm
TV: Live on Fox Sports 1
Raiders team: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Bill Tupou, 3. Jarrod Croker (c), 4. Jeremy Hawkins, 5. Edrick Lee, 6. Anthony Milford, 7. Josh McCrone (c), 8. Shannon Boyd, 9. Glen Buttriss, 10. Dane Tilse, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Jarrad Kennedy, 13. Joel Edwards. Interchange: 14. Mitch Cornish, 15. Matt McIlwrick, 16. Kyle O'Donnell, 17. Paul Vaughan.