Furner gives Raiders rookies chance to shine in trial
Edrick Lee makes a tackle at Raiders training last week. Photo: Colleen Petch
Canberra coach David Furner will unleash the club's young guns against Melbourne in Geelong on Friday, with the Raiders set to be without up to 11 of its top-liners.
Boom outside back Edrick Lee wants to capitalise by proving he can make the step up from wing to centre in first grade this season.
Six Raiders will feature in Saturday's All Stars clash, ruling Reece Robinson, Jake Foster, David Shillington, Joel Thompson, Blake Ferguson and Jack Wighton out of the first trial.
Injuries have also ruled out senior players Terry Campese, Brett White, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Glen Buttriss, meaning the Raiders will field a virtual second string line-up against the defending premier.
Star lock Shaun Fensom may also withdraw after he suffered a minor left ankle sprain during Friday's opposed session.
Furner had hoped to field his best available line-up against the Storm and said Canberra's representation in the All Stars clash was ''unfair''.
But the upside is it will force him to expose several Raiders rookies against a quality side.
Canberra is set to announce a 23-man or 24-man squad on Tuesday, which will include youngsters Lee, Paul Vaughan, Sam Sauiluma, Shannon Boyd and Hayden Hodge.
Halves Mitch Cornish and Anthony Milford, who guided the Raiders to last year's under-20 grand final, will also get plenty of game time.
''I'll run [first choice halves] Josh McCrone and Sam Williams for a good 50-odd minutes, then those two will get 30 minutes after that,'' Furner said.
''We're just seeing how [Fensom] is at the moment, he had a tweak in our opposed [session].
''He'd be close to playing, he didn't train [on Monday] just to let it settle down, but if he's not right I have 10 other players out as it is.''
Lee earned cult figure status with Raiders fans after scoring six tries in his first seven NRL games last season on the wing.
Dubbed ''Sticks'' due to his spindly frame, the 19-year-old will play most of the trial at right centre in place of Ferguson.
Ironically, Lee is using advice from Ferguson to help him emulate his successful shift from wing to centre last year.
The Souths Logan junior is full of confidence after attending a recent Queensland Emerging Squad camp in Brisbane alongside Raiders teammate Josh Papalii.
''Blake's had a few rep games after going from centre, he's had to change things a bit and done it well,'' Lee said.
''He's really adapted, and to get his input on how to defend in the centres has really helped me.
''The attack will come naturally but defence is a different story, what I've really worked on is my positioning.''
Lee is primed for a big performance to ensure he is next in line for a centres berth should injury strike Ferguson or Jarrod Croker, who is off contract at the end of the season.
''Hopefully they don't [get injured] but if one of them does go down I want to put my hand up and say I'll happily go into the centres, and do well,'' Lee said.
''This trial I really want to play well and if I have a good game, see what happens throughout the year.''
NRL trial match: Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders at Simonds Stadium, Geelong, 6.30pm.