Robinson doubtful as Dugan leads in fullback fitness race
Reece Robinson looks on at Josh Dugan at Raiders training on Thursday. Photo: Colleen Petch
One fullback is racing the clock while the other seems certain to line up in the Canberra Raiders' season opener on Sunday.
Representative custodian Josh Dugan completed all of Thursday's training session and is on track to be included for the round-one clash with the Penrith Panthers at Centrebet Stadium.
Dugan wasn't originally named in the side after he was hospitalised for three days with a lip infection.
His quicker-than-expected recovery has come at the perfect time, with his replacement in the No.1 jersey, Reece Robinson, in doubt with back spasms.
Robinson hasn't trained for the past two days and the Raiders would be advised to take a cautious approach for the first game of the season.
Centre Jarrod Croker is also unlikely to come into the team, given he didn't take part in contact training on Thursday due to his injured knee.
If Croker and Robinson both fail to play, Dugan will take over the goal-kicking duties.
Croker's absence would mean young gun Jack Wighton will start in the centres, with another exciting youngster, Edrick Lee, on the wing.
Both got a taste of first-grade last year, with Wighton turning plenty of heads with his performance for the Indigenous All Stars.
Raiders winger Sandor Earl expected the pair of under-20s graduates to take their chance with both hands.
''They've shown they've got big futures,'' Earl said.
''It shows how good our depth is to have young players come in and be genuine first-graders.''
Earl will be among familiar surroundings having left the Panthers during the middle of last year to join the Raiders.
He quickly became a fan favourite at his new home, forming a lethal combination with Blake Ferguson down Canberra's right-hand edge and signing a two-year deal until the end of 2014.
Earl doesn't hold any grudges with his former club, but the 23-year-old - sporting his unmistakable bleached-blond hair - predicted the Panthers faithful wouldn't be as forgiving.
''Penrith's one of those grounds that's quite close and I'm on the wing, so I'd imagine the blond hair will attract a few comments, but that will probably be about it,'' Earl said.
''In hindsight, it would've been nice to have been given a bit of faith and opportunity that was given to me here. Last year was a whirlwind, but now I'm definitely a Raider. Hopefully we can smash them.''
The Panthers have undergone a massive transformation in the off-season, bringing in a host of experienced players to fill the void left by the likes of Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon.
But Raiders prop Dane Tilse is wary of taking the Panthers lightly given their history of causing upsets.
''Sika Manu and Wes Naiqama are good players, and their fullback Dean Whare, so they're a bit of an unknown quantity,'' Tilse said.
''We'll be looking to cover all bases and watch a bit of footage from their other teams last year.''