Canberra Raiders halfback Josh McCrone has backed Terry Campese to bounce back from recent criticism and prove his doubters wrong, admitting it would be ''sad'' if he wasn't with the club next season.
McCrone had one of his best games of the year in an undermanned Canberra's 18-10 loss to Parramatta at Darwin on Saturday, which Campese missed with an oblique strain.
Raiders boss Don Furner has publicly reiterated twice this week he expects skipper Campese to see out the final year of his five-year deal next season.
The five-eighth has come under fire from some critics for the perception he is being targeted by rivals in defence.
There's also a belief McCrone saves his best for when he's the chief playmaker, which was only strengthened by his strong display against the Eels.
McCrone set up Canberra's first two tries and his kicking game was also influential in helping the Raiders come agonisingly close to an upset.
The 26-year-old admitted he relishes taking on more responsibility when needed, with Canberra fielding a youthful team against Parramatta without key leaders Campese, Shaun Fensom and David Shillington.
Campese is a chance to return against St George Illawarra at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
"He's the club captain for a reason, he's a good leader for us, when he's right to come back I'm sure he'll be straight back,'' McCrone said.
"It'd be sad if he wasn't here [next year]. I haven't really had a talk to him about it, I'd say he's enjoying his quiet week with the barrage he's had the last couple of weeks.
"I think it [more responsibility] keeps me in the game a bit more, I don't have any chance to drift out of it which unfortunately has been happening a bit this year.
"Apart from two or three guys the team was pretty young, I definitely saw myself as more of a leader.''
McCrone said the chance to bunker down with his teammates helped steel the Raiders to show some fight against Parramatta after a meek 54-18 home loss to New Zealand last week.
He said there was no excuse not to show the same desperation in the last four games of the year as they try to stave off Cronulla in the battle for the wooden spoon.
"I still think we can get that part of our game even better, but that definitely has to be the minimum now,'' he said.
"It was obvious to everyone the attitude was there, which was a positive after the embarrassment of last week.
"I think it helped getting up to Darwin with some warmer weather and the boys had fun together. It was a camp-style thing.''
McCrone has been forced to adopt to different roles and different halves partners consistently this year.
He began the season playing hooker off the bench, before slotting back into the halves with Campese when the Jack Wighton five-eighth experiment was scrapped.
Against Parramatta he began the match in the halves with Anthony Milford, before shifting to hooker when young halfback Mitch Cornish came off the bench.
"That's no excuse for me by any means,'' McCrone said.
"It's good to build up a combination, but Campo and I have been given a fair crack at it this year so we can't really complain.''
NRL round 23: Canberra Raiders v St George Illawarra Dragons at Canberra Stadium, 3pm
Tickets available from Ticketek