Dugan, Croker boost side for Panthers test
Raiders centre Jarrod Croker is set to play in the round one clash with Penrith. Photo: Colleen Petch
FULLBACK Josh Dugan and centre Jarrod Croker are set to be injected back into the Canberra Raiders starting team for Sunday's season-opener at Penrith after the pair sailed through Saturday's captain's run.
But winger Reece Robinson will be replaced by Jack Wighton after the Indigenous All-Stars representative failed to recover from back spasms he suffered during a gym session last week.
Dugan's preparation had been hindered in the past three weeks, first by an ankle injury and then a badly infected lip which required him to be hospitalised for three days.
Canberra Raiders players Jarrod Croker and Sandor Earl clowning around during a break at training. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
But the one-time state-of-origin representative looked sharp in the team's final session on Saturday.
Croker seems to have proved his fitness after suffering a knee injury in Canberra's opening trial match against the Melbourne Storm.
While the return of the star duo will give Canberra's back line a boost, prop David Shillington says the Raiders must be prepared for a torrid forwards battle against the Panthers.
Led by props Tim Grant and Sam McKendry, Penrith bashed Canberra early in last year's clash and Shillington said the Raiders were bracing for another ambush at Centrebet Stadium.
The Panthers pack has been bolstered in the off-season by the addition of Sika Manu and Lewis Brown.
"It was a really scrappy game the last time we played Penrith, and I think their forwards played a little bit better than us," Shillington admitted.
"They had heaps of second phase play, sometimes they were throwing three or four off-loads in a set and we couldn't even shut it down."
Raiders coach David Furner said the team had spent considerable time containing Penrith's off-loading ability.
"Certainly, defensively, we have to be nice and aggressive," Furner said.
"They've got some great go forward people in Grant and McKendry, and off the back of that you've got [half-back Luke] Walsh orchestrating their attack."
Prop Brett White continued his comeback from a knee injury in the NSW Cup with Mounties on Saturday.
It gives young front-rower Mark Nicholls a chance to cement a place before White ? is cleared to return to the NRL.
"That's what we need as a team, if we're going to perform we need players putting pressure on each other," Nicholls said.
"I set the goal for myself to start the year off the bench and that's what's happened, I just want to build on my rookie year and improve as a player."