Furner may roll the dice on Dugan, Croker
Josh Dugan gets away from Mitchell Cornish at Raiders training on Wednesday. Photo: Colleen Petch
Raiders coach David Furner will decide on Thursday whether to gamble on back-line stars Josh Dugan and Jarrod Croker in Sunday's NRL season opener, with key back-up Reece Robinson now in doubt for the Penrith match, too.
Dugan and Croker were put through searching fitness tests on Wednesday afternoon and Furner rated both players better than a 50-50 chance of playing against the Panthers.
Their late inclusion would be a massive bonus for the Raiders, especially after Robinson sat out training on Wednesday because of back spasms.
Robinson had been named at fullback in place of Dugan and was also in line to take over the goal-kicking duties from Croker.
But the Indigenous All Stars representative winger had acupuncture treatment on Wednesday after straining his back in a weights session.
The Raiders were taking a conservative approach with Dugan and Croker but both have surprised coaching staff with speedy recoveries.
Croker was put through a tough tackling session at the end of Wednesday's training to test his injured right knee. But the NRL's leading point-scorer of last year did not take part in a session with goal-kicking guru Daryl Halligan.
Having been hospitalised for three days with a serious lip infection last week, Dugan ran strongly. If Dugan, Croker and Robinson were unavailable, Blake Ferguson is next in line to kick goals.
Furner said he would make a call on positions on Thursday, giving combinations time to gel before Sunday's kick-off.
''There's no excuses,'' Furner said. ''I've got players there that have been training in the top squad all pre-season. If I have to make changes, I make changes.
''[Dugan and Croker] have upped the ante from 50-50, both of them. But these games I need them fully fit. I need to see how they pull up.''
Former Kangaroos prop Brett White is almost certain to drop off the Raiders bench and could play NSW Cup with Mounties. The Raiders are keen to increase his game time as White continues his comeback from a knee reconstruction.
Hooker Glen Buttriss is expected to be given another week off to recover from an ankle injury, while Terry Campese isn't likely to be fit for selection until at least round three.
Furner is anticipating Penrith to take the Raiders on through the forwards. ''They've bought a couple of strike back-rowers in Lewis Brown and Sika Manu … they're big and powerful, we've got to be aggressive.''