Raiders captain Terry Campese steps around the tackle bags at training. Photo: Colleen Petch
David Shillington has challenged the Canberra Raiders' leadership group to take pressure off Terry Campese to ensure the captaincy duties do not become a burden in the playmaker's anticipated comeback.
The Green Machine has promoted some of its rising stars into an eight-man leadership group, with Campese the man in charge.
But while Campese is the captain, his No.1 job is to overcome the injuries that have plagued him for the past two years.
The former NSW five-eighth has already ruled himself out of the team's trial matches and is refusing to rush his third injury comeback since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2010.
Shillington - who stepped in as captain last season - is happy to hand the reins back to Campese. But he warned the team against expecting too much too quickly from the star.
''[Campese] looks like he's starting to get a bit of momentum, but it's a tough and frustrating road for him and you can definitely see that,'' Shillington said.
''I'm sure it gets him down from time to time. He's slotted into field work a couple of times with us and it's exciting to see him back, we all give him a bit of a clap and cheer because we want him back out there. One thing I learnt last year when I took over from Campo as captain is to not try to do it [all] yourself, turn to people around you to get some help.
''When Campo comes back, we don't want pressure on him, we just want him back in the team and playing great footy like we know he can play. We'll rally around him.''
Campese is in a race to be fit for the opening rounds of the season after having serious knee surgery again last year.
He has played just eight games since leading the Raiders' charge into the finals in 2010 and is reluctant to put a date on when he will return. The Raiders begin their season with a clash against the Penrith Panthers on March 10.
Campese is still aiming to be available for selection, but has indicated he would be happy with a spot on the bench or with the Raiders' feeder team in the NSW Cup. The 28-year-old isn't fazed by any extra leadership pressure.
''I don't even think [about the captaincy], Shillo did a great job and led the team into the semi-finals last year and I'm more than happy for him to take that,'' Campese said.
''I've only had one thing on my mind and that's getting my knee right. No matter if I'm captain or not, the position I play is in the halves and you've got to lead when you're out on the field anyway.''
Shillington and Brett White will remain as Campese's deputies, while Josh McCrone, Shaun Fensom, Dane Tilse, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Shaun Berrigan complete the leadership group.
It's an unusually large group and at times all eight leaders could be on the field together.
In the past, the Raiders have had a captain and either one or two vice-captains. But Shillington said the extended group would not work against the Raiders' bid to make the finals in back-to-back years for the first time in almost a decade.
''I was always vice-captain last year and my first preference is to back up Campo,'' Shillington said. ''I don't think it's a bad thing [having eight leaders], I think it's an indication of the way we've progressed as a team.
''We've invested a lot into leadership training and a couple of years ago it was probably myself, Tonguey [retired captain Alan Tongue] and Campo but now we've got a couple of good players coming through and lots of good senior players. It would be hard to leave any of the players out that are in there at the moment.''