Rugby League

NRL: Canberra Raiders hand Lachlan Croker his first-grade debut against Sydney Roosters

One by one, Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart asked his senior players if they wanted boom teenager Lachlan Croker to make his NRL debut.

The response was an overwhelming yes.

Canberra Raiders five-eighth Lachlan Croker has been named to make his NRL debut against the Sydney Roosters on Saturday.
Canberra Raiders five-eighth Lachlan Croker has been named to make his NRL debut against the Sydney Roosters on Saturday. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The exciting 19-year-old will line-up at five-eighth for the Raiders in Saturday's clash with the Sydney Roosters at Canberra Stadium.

Injuries to star playmakers Blake Austin (knee) and Aidan Sezer (cheekbone), who will both miss four to   six weeks, required  Stuart to fill both halves spots.

Sam Williams was always going to take one, but fullback Jack Wighton and hooker Josh Hodgson were the other contenders for the No, 6 jersey.

"I wouldn't put him in if I didn't have the confidence," Stuart said. "I got my senior players in and we spoke about it yesterday and there was no hesitation whatsoever  in playing [Croker].


"It was unanimous, they all wanted him ... it wasn't a tough decision."

It was a case of when, rather than if, Croker was going to make his first-grade debut.

The Crookwell product has trained with the Raiders' NRL squad for the past two seasons, is signed until the end of 2017 and has played in the Auckland Nines the past two years.

"If I had any doubt that he might not be up to the challenge, I'd wait and let him play some more footy," Stuart said.

"I've got all the confidence in the world but, more importantly, every one of the players I sat down with yesterday were more than confident. He's got a lot of respect from the playing and coaching group."

Williams returns after a virus forced him to miss last weekend's 30-22 win against the Penrith Panthers in the season opener. 

Croker's inclusion means two of the newest halves combinations in the NRL will be on show at Canberra Stadium.

Williams is the most experienced of the quartet with 62 games, while the Roosters' pairing of Jackson Hastings (20 games) and Jayden Nikorima (one) are also still finding their feet.

"It probably puts a little bit of extra responsibility on my shoulders, but I think I'm a natural talker on the field and I'm happy leading the team around and calling the shots," Williams said.

"It doesn't change my game too much.

"It's just important when I get out there I make the right calls and get the team around."

Losing Austin and Sezer is a huge blow for the Raiders.

Austin set up a try and scored one himself before coming off early in the second half, while Sezer put on a wonderful display in his Raiders' debut, crossing for two tries.

"It's a shame for the club, they both had outstanding games on the weekend," Williams said.

"This week it's about us stepping in and doing a job.

"We've done a lot of work in the off-season with different combinations and different players and I think we all feel comfortable with whoever's there.

"If everyone does their job, we're going to be hard to beat."

Williams was named to play at five-eighth last week, but pulled out of the side at the last moment.

Croker and Williams are the only two changes to the Raiders' team.

Winger Sisa Waqa has been picked to play for Mounties in the NSW Cup for the second straight week, as has Knights recruit Joseph Tapine.

It is understood reports Waqa could ask for a release to join a French rugby union club as early as this week are incorrect.

* NRL round two: Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters at Canberra Stadium, 3pm. TV: Live on Fox Sports. Tickets at Ticketek.

Raiders: 1. Jack Wighton. 2. Edrick Lee. 3. Jarrod Croker (c). 4. Joey Leilua. 5. Jordan Rapana. 6. Lachlan Croker. 7. Sam Williams. 8. Shannon Boyd. 9. Josh Hodgson. 10. Frank-Paul Nuuausala. 11. Josh Papalli. 12. Elliott Whitehead. 13. Shaun Fensom. 14. Kurt Baptiste. 15. Sia Soliola. 16. Paul Vaughan. 17. Jeff Lima.

Roosters: 1. Blake Ferguson, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Dale Copley, 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5. Latrell Mitchell, 6. Jayden Nikorima, 7. Jackson Hastings, 8. Kane Evans, 9. Jake Friend (c), 10. Dylan Napa, 11. Aidan Guerra, 12. Mitchell Aubusson, 13. Isaac Liu. Interchange: 14. Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 15. Sam Moa, 16. Ian Henderson, 17. Vincent Leuluai, 19. Joe Burgess (one to be omitted).