Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has warned he will begin selecting Raiders teams for the future ''when the time is right'', dropping winger Reece Robinson in favour of departing rookie Matt Allwood for Friday’s match against the Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium.
Robinson’s career at the Raiders is in limbo, the 27-year-old coming off contract at the end of the season and dumped from the NRL team because of costly blunders under the high ball in Canberra’s loss to the Brisbane Broncos.
The Raiders have recalled Allwood even though the 21-year-old centre is leaving at the end of the season on a three-year deal with the New Zealand Warriors.
It’s understood the Raiders were poised to hand Junior Kiwis representative Jeremy Hawkins his NRL debut, but that option was dashed when Hawkins was suspended for one match for lashing out with his boot while playing for Mounties in the NSW Cup.
Asked about the decision to recall Allwood, Stuart said: ''That’s the position we’re in at the moment.
''When the time’s right I’ll be giving players who are going to be at the club a real opportunity.''
Robinson has played 78 of his 91 NRL matches for the Raiders and Stuart admitted his best position was fullback. But that role is taken by young star Anthony Milford, who is also set to leave Canberra at the end of the season, for Brisbane.
Stuart was noncommittal when asked about Robinson’s future at Canberra or whether he could be a long-term option at No.1.
''I don’t know ... individuals pick themselves,'' he said. ''The hardest part about picking a team is when players don’t put their hands up to say pick me.
''Reece is far better than what he showed last game in regards to those dropped balls. I think it’s tough on Reece, he’s probably playing out of position and is more suited to fullback than wing.''
The Raiders have four wins from 13 games this season and will field a depleted line-up against the Bulldogs, given injuries to back-rowers Josh Papalii (ankle) and Joel Edwards (cheek) and a suspension to Paul Vaughan.
The Raiders have promoted Jake Foster to starting back row against his former club, for just his second NRL match this season. Prop Kyle O’Donnell is the other addition to the pack, on the bench.
''Teams go through it at this time of year, whether it’s injuries, suspensions or representative football, it gives other players opportunities to put their hands up,'' Stuart said.
''There’s so much effort being put into the game, yet there’s individual pieces of play that are letting us down.''
While Jack Wighton was released by the extended NSW Origin squad to return to the Raiders on Sunday, Milford remains in camp with the Maroons. But Stuart said his understanding was Milford was remaining for experience, not on standby because of injuries to Billy Slater and Daly Cherry-Evans.
''Queensland asked if he could stay on and it’s just a good experience for him,'' Stuart said. ''If they’re playing him, I definitely don’t know anything about it.''