Shaun Berrigan during Raiders training before their game against Manly. Photo: ROHAN THOMSON
THE CANBERRA RAIDERS are set to thrust Shaun Berrigan into dummy half in today's crunch game at Manly, opening the door for young gun Jack Wighton to cement the right centre spot.
Wighton missed last week's 44-22 loss to Cronulla through concussion, and played all six of his first NRL games this year on the wing.
But in a bid to address his side's poor recent defensive efforts, Raiders coach David Furner will hand the strong tackling teenager the daunting task of marking Manly hitman Steve Matai.
With first choice rake Glen Buttriss (knee) sidelined, the Raiders are desperate for Berrigan to provide some much-needed creativity around the ruck.
The 34-year-old will either start on the bench and relieve starting hooker Travis Waddell, or begin at right centre and shift to dummy half, with Wighton slotting into centre from the bench.
''He's played for Australia and hopefully he can sniff out some opportunities,'' Raiders captain David Shillington said yesterday.
''He's been great with his experience on the [right edge], but we've definitely lacked some dynamic plays out of there [dummy half].''
Canberra has conceded 14 tries in heavy losses to Cronulla (44-2) and Brisbane (30-6) in the past fortnight.
It's in stark contrast to the Raiders staunch defence of the first six rounds where they conceded just 17 tries, the third best record in the competition. Furner has read the riot act to his side this week, labelling its horrible defensive showing at home against the Sharks ''unacceptable.''
''We have to build our confidence through our defence, because there's nothing wrong with our attack,'' Furner said yesterday.
''The next three to five weeks, we really have to nail that down properly.''
Wighton has proved himself a terrific jumper for the high ball, and the Raiders feel he and right winger Blake Ferguson can use their aerial prowess to expose rookie Manly winger Jorge Taufua.
While Furner has demanded his side improve defensively, talk has also been a major focus.
Skipper Terry Campese and vice captain Brett White, the side's two best on-field leaders, are sidelined for the year with knee injuries.
''Last week I thought at times under fatigue we didn't have the talk I would have liked, which led to some poor decisions in defence,'' Furner said.
''We can't use age as an excuse, I know someone like Jacko [Wighton] or Reecey [Reece Robinson] haven't played a great deal of games but some of the others have.
''Talk's going to be really important for us in an environment that's going to be pretty hostile.''
Raiders second rower Joel Thompson said he and the club's ''second tier'' leaders have made a concerted effort to improve their on-field communication.
''Especially with Shillo also not being an 80-minute captain, it gives the responsibility to myself, Joshy McCrone, Crokes [Jarrod Croker] and [Blake] Ferguson to step up the talk,'' he said.
''I've made it a focus in my game. With the left side I'm making sure my talk is up [because] we have some quiet players [on that edge] with Sam [Williams], Crokes and Reecey [Reece Robinson].
''It's definitely something the team as a whole needs to pick up.''