Rugby League

NRL: Canberra Raiders confident Blake Austin will survive defensive test on shoulder

The Canberra Raiders are confident Blake Austin's suspect shoulder will survive a rigorous defensive examination in their NRL season opener against the Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.

Last year's Dally M five-eighth of the year will be eased into the new campaign off the bench in his first game since round 25 last year.

After shoulder surgery in the off-season, Blake Austin, centre, will make his comeback to the NRL from the bench on Saturday.
After shoulder surgery in the off-season, Blake Austin, centre, will make his comeback to the NRL from the bench on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

Austin underwent a shoulder operation in the off-season and didn't play in the club's trial match against the Newcastle Knights in Orange, but Raiders captain Jarrod Croker expects the 25-year-old to handle anything the Panthers throw at him.

"He got it last year when he had a good shoulder, so I'm sure he'll be up for plenty of defence if he has to do some defence," Croker said.

"There's not many halves in the game that don't get targeted, so I'm sure everyone's up for that.

"Blake will be itching to go, it will be about him keeping his nerves on the bench.

"He's had a long, tough pre-season with that shoulder.

"All I know is he's 100 per cent ready to go and if him starting on the bench this weekend is the best thing for the team, Blake will do that for us."

Sam Williams will start alongside prized Gold Coast Titans recruit Aidan Sezer in the halves with Austin on the bench.

Austin could be used to give hooker Josh Hodgson a rest, while Williams is also an option to play some minutes at dummy-half.

It will be Austin's first game off the bench since round 17, 2014 when he was with the Wests Tigers, which was coincidentally also against the Panthers.

He was used as a utility with the Panthers and Tigers before having a breakout season with the Raiders in the No 6 jersey.

Raiders forward Shaun Fensom also doesn't have any issues with the broken arm which kept him out of the trial game.

"I've been doing contact work since before the Orange trial, had two or three weeks of contact into it," Fensom said.

"I had another X-Ray on it to see the healing process and out here at training, obviously doing contact and getting my weights back in the gym and strengths tests.

"I'm not too sure what the rotation is going to be, but if I have to push out the 80 [minutes], I'm happy to do that."

The Raiders have the perfect platform to return to the finals for the first time since 2012 with three of their opening four games at home.

But to do that, they will have to turn around a terrible record from a year ago when they won just three of their 12 games at Canberra Stadium.

The supporters are still well and truly behind them, with the Raiders reaching 11,000 members - the first time the club has reached that milestone before round one.

SATURDAY: NRL round one: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 3pm. TV: Live on Fox Sports. Tickets at Ticketek