Nick Cotric to make NRL debut in Canberra Raiders' fresh left-edge pairing against North Queensland Cowboys
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Nick Cotric to make NRL debut in Canberra Raiders' fresh left-edge pairing against North Queensland Cowboys

Teenage sensation Nick Cotric will make his NRL debut in the Canberra Raiders' biggest season opener in 20 years, against a side co-captained by a future Immortal.

But stand-in captain Josh Hodgson says coming up against the likes of Johnathan Thurston on his home turf won't overawe the "excitable" youngster.

"Exciteable": Nick Cotric will debut on the wing.

"Exciteable": Nick Cotric will debut on the wing.Credit:Jay Cronan

Injury and the salary cap squeeze has forced Raiders coach Ricky Stuart to name an entirely new left-edge combination to combat the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night.

Cotric will debut on the wing, with English international Elliott Whitehead shuffling from right second-row to left centre.

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The Canberra Raiders players arive at the Canberra Airport, to go to Townsville for their opening round match against the Cowboys. Raiders player Sia Soliola and Josh Hodgson. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The Canberra Raiders players arive at the Canberra Airport, to go to Townsville for their opening round match against the Cowboys. Raiders player Sia Soliola and Josh Hodgson. Photo: Jamila ToderasCredit:Jamila Toderas

The changes come in the wake of captain Jarrod Croker's injury and winger Edrick Lee's departure to the Cronulla Sharks.

Canberra veteran Sia Soliola moves into the second-row alongside Josh Papalii, with Luke Bateman filtering into the middle at lock.

Raiders hooker Hodgson is confident breaking up the right-side combination that proved so lethal in 2016 won't interrupt team chemistry.

The English star backed Cotric and Whitehead to quickly find their groove in defence after a lengthy stint alongside one another at training.

"They've done a lot of practice during the pre-season and obviously since Toots [Croker] got injured," Hodgson said.

"Nick's a good kid, and he won't worry about anything else outside his job. He'll let the people inside him worry about that and the edge defence and we'll be right.

"We've done enough defensive work during the year, and no matter who slots into which positions, our systems always stay the same.

"Everybody knows the systems and everybody knows what we do, so there should be no issues there."

Hodgson believes Cotric's "level head" will hold him in good stead on debut, and is confident the 18-year-old has what it takes to cut it in the high-pressure environment of first grade football.

"He's constantly running around all over the field and asking me to put kicks to the corner for him and everything," Hodgson said.

"He's very excited for this weekend but he's got a level head on him, and he knows come game time, he knows his job and he knows what he's got to do."

Clay Priest will start in the front row with Junior Paulo ruled out through suspension, with Dunamis Lui set to make his Raiders debut off the bench.

Both Croker and Paulo made the trip to Townsville despite not being able to play, with their presence around the group a big plus in the eyes of coach Stuart.

The Raiders go to Townsville having not won at the venue in 11 years, but veteran Soliola says recent results count for nothing.

"We haven't spoken about it to be honest," Soliola said.

"Going up there a little bit earlier, we'll get a feel for the place and the environment and the town. It'll be great, we enjoy each other's company when we go away anyway."

Hopes the Raiders might come up against former player Shaun Fensom in the season opener have been dashed, after he was left out of Cowboys coach Paul Green's squad.

Green has named winger Antonio Winterstein despite a right ankle sprain, with Javid Bowen and Kalyn Ponga waiting in the wings.

Twenty-four hours before kick-off, the two 21-man squads will be culled back to 19, before the final 17-man teams are announced one hour before the opening whistle.

Canberra's newest English import Jordan Turner will link up with Lachlan Croker for Canberra's reserve grade team Mounties after he was beaten to the NRL utility position by Adam Clysdale.

Croker and Makahesi Makatoa have been named in both Canberra's NRL squad and the Mounties NSW Cup team, which is allowed under the new squad naming rules.

However, the pair didn't fly to Townsville with the rest of the NRL squad.

Dave Taylor wasn't considered for selection as his Raiders contract is yet to be officially registered by the NRL.

NRL ROUND ONE

Saturday: Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys at Townsville, 7pm. Live on Fox Sports 2.

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Raiders squad: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Elliott Whitehead, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Clay Priest, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Sia Solila, 13. Luke Bateman. Interchange: 14. Adam Clydsdale, 15. Dunamis Lui, 16. Jeff Lima, 17. Joe Tapine, 18. Scott Sorensen, 19. Zac Santo, 20. Makahesi Makatoa, 21. Lachlan Croker

Cowboys squad: 1. Lachlan Coote, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O'Neill, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Johnathan Thurston, 8. Matt Scott, 9. Jake Granville, 10. Scott Bolton, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Ben Hampton, 15. John Asiata, 16. Coen Hess, 17. Patrick Kaufusi, 18. Sam Hoare, 19. Gideon Gela-Mosby, 20. Javid Bowen, 21. Kalyn Ponga