Canberra Raiders captain Terry Campese. Glen Buttriss cools off during training on Wednesday. Photo: Jay Cronan
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has hosed down fears Terry Campese is nursing an injury, insisting the skipper is ”100 per cent” fit for round one despite failing to train with the main squad on Wednesday.
Campese was a no-show just days after pulling out of Canberra’s final trial, which left him without a pre-season hit-out.
The 29-year-old has not played a trial and there were suspicions he has been carrying a minor foot complaint.
But Stuart said Campese was ”100 per cent” fit and has simply been managing his workload before the season opener against North Queensland on March 8.
”We had a really heavy [training] load today, Campo did his own form of training with a different load,” Stuart said.
”He’s 100 per cent. He’s had an outstanding pre-season and we’re just freshening him up and getting him ready for round one.”
The Raiders have been training with an NRL squad of 36 in the pre-season, but Stuart will trim that to no more than 20 in the next few days as the club focuses on nailing its new combinations.
Stuart said he planned to consult with senior players, known as Group 82. He confirmed Jack Wighton and Campese were shaping as his preferred halves options for round one.
It appears Glen Buttriss has won the battle to start at hooker, with Josh McCrone providing utility value at hooker, and for the halves, on the bench.
Rookie Matt Allwood is also favourite to get first crack at replacing the sacked Blake Ferguson at right centre after a strong display in Saturday’s trial loss to Newcastle.
Buttriss said he was not yet ready to play a full game after reconstructive shoulder surgery during the off-season.
It came after an ankle problem that required four different surgeries restricted him to just 13 games in 2012.
The 28-year-old wasn’t expected to be fit for the start of the season, but now has the inside running to sew up the No.9 jersey in his seventh year at Canberra.
Stuart hinted he’s prepared to start Buttriss, despite his interrupted pre-season, by playing him in a near full-strength line-up in the first half against the Knights.
”I was blowing a fair bit on the weekend, I’m probably not up to 80 minutes at the moment, but hopefully I will be later in the season,” Buttriss said.
”I’d just come back from ankle surgery and to get another injury so soon was pretty tough.”
Wighton gave a strong indication he’s moving from centre to halves when he told Fairfax Media on Monday: ”Campo will be the brains of the operation and I’ll play off the back of him. There’s a little bit of pressure, but more so nerves because I really want to do well for the team and I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Canberra will field arguably the NRL’s youngest back line with Wighton (21), Anthony Milford (19), Edrick Lee (21) and Allwood (21) all set for starting berths, while Jack Ahearn (21) and Mitch Cornish (21) are tipped to debut this year.
Raiders vice-captain Brett White said the mood around the squad is the best it’s been in his four years at the club.
”Without doubt there’s a totally different feeling and a lot of confidence,” White said.
”And it’s the right sort of confidence. Not cockiness, more a belief. [Since I’ve been here] it’s probably been disappointing, but this is by far the best I’ve felt at the club.”