Stuart: Raiders new halves pair must prove themselves before round one
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Stuart: Raiders new halves pair must prove themselves before round one

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says his new halves pairing Jack Wighton and Aidan Sezer will have to prove themselves in a trial this week before they get the nod for round one.

Stuart has named his strongest team available for the Raiders second and final trial against the Canterbury Bulldogs in Bega on Saturday.

Raiders star Jack Wighton has switched from fullback to five-eighth this season.

Raiders star Jack Wighton has switched from fullback to five-eighth this season. Credit:Karleen Minney

It will mark Wighton's first game since his 10-game suspension for an alcohol-fuelled assault this time last year, which he faced court over and was fined $30,000.

The former fullback has switched back to five-eighth this season after playing nine games there in 2014 and Wighton will partner Sezer in the halves for the first time on Saturday.

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Canberra co-captains Jarrod Croker and Josh Hodgson, plus Josh Papalii, Elliott Whitehead and Nick Cotric will also play their first games of 2019, while Tapine will back up from his solid performance for the Maori All-Stars last Friday.

Jordan Rapana (shoulder), Joey Leilua (hamstring), Michael Oldfield (groin) and English recruit John Bateman (side strain) are unavailable, but the latter trio will be fit for the season-opener on March 17.

Halfback Sam Williams kicked the winning goal from the sideline as the Raiders downed Parramatta 22-20 in their first trial in Sydney last Saturday.

Stuart said he wants to see an accomplished performance from Wighton and Sezer this week before he feels comfortable handing them the playmaking duties in round one.

"That [round one selection] will come down to their performance this weekend against Canterbury, they have to perform," Stuart said.

"We’ve got a couple of other players who can play in those positions as well. Like the players, we’re hoping everybody comes out and trials very well and performance is important."

Stuart fielded a rookie side against Parramatta and said it was time to his experienced players on the park this week.

"It will be our strongest team available, and I’ll take 22-26 players, they won’t all get 80 minutes but our main squad will get 60 minutes," Stuart said.

"We were fortunate in being able to play against a number of NRL players against Parramatta, our younger players got to see where they were at, and what it was like playing against a fully-fledged NRL player.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart at preseason training.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart at preseason training. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"The intensity, the speed, the collision is always greater, I was more than impressed with a number of individuals and it’s made me change around a couple of selections this week."

Wighton's vacant fullback jersey is up for grabs but New Zealand Warriors recruit Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad put his hand up with a strong performance against the Eels.

Former All Blacks sevens player Bailey Simonsson started at fullback against Parramatta, while Oldfield has also been training there.

"Young Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad performed very well on the weekend, Bailey Simonsson also did very well at fullback," Stuart said.

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"Bailey is a very raw young boy who has not had a lot of experience at rugby league but I thought he trialled very well.

"Another guy who impressed was Toni Satini and I’ve got Michael Oldfield who is injured at the moment, so all of a sudden performance shows we’ve got a little bit of depth there.

"What I enjoy is a lot of youth in our squad and there’s a lot of youth pushing a couple of our senior players at the moment, which is very healthy in regards to positions."

Stuart believes he's seen a shift in mentality from his men this preseason and said they'll be ready to go against the Gold Coast Titans in round one.

"I was happy with their attitude and desire and their will to perform [against Parramatta], we’ve got a very healthy attitude in the squad at the moment," Stuart said.

"That’s been shown to me in their application throughout the off-season. Just the way they came back after Christmas, I gave them some extra time over the break and how they turned up physically after Christmas showed me these guys are fair dinkum."

CANBERRA RAIDERS UPCOMING GAMES

Saturday preseason trial: Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs at Bega Recreational Ground, 5pm.

Raiders squad: Luke Bateman, JJ Collins, Nick Cotric, Jarrod Croker, Emre Guler, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Seb Kris, Siliva Havili, Josh Hodgson, Corey Horsburgh, Royce Hunt, Deam Matterson, Jack Murchie, Josh Papalii, Tony Satini, Aidan Sezer, Bailey Simonsson, Sia Soliola, Tom Starling, Harley Smith-Shields, Ryan Sutton,
Joe Tapine, Matt Timoko, Elliott Whitehead, Jack Wighton, Sam Williams, Hudson Young,

Round 1: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans at the Gold Coast, March 17 6.10pm.

Eamonn Tiernan is a sports reporter with The Canberra Times

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