In a tale ot two decisions, Canberra Raiders fullback Jack Wighton has made a courageous one, while it’s hoped the other will help big bopper Junior Paulo hit his NRL campaign running.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart hailed Wighton’s call to rule himself out last week as courageous as they prepare to welcome their No.1 back for their massive clash against reigning premiers Cronulla at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Wighton fell ill on game day last weekend for the Green Machine’s season opener against the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville and eventually ruled himself out just hours before kick off, opening the door for Zac Santo to play his third NRL game.
Stuart said Wighton was right to return as the Raiders look for their first win of the season.
Last season Wighton proved to be a talisman for Canberra, his patch of great form in the second half of the season part of the reason they went on a 10-game winning streak and a charge deep into the finals.
“It was just very unlucky. He woke up at 4am on Saturday in North Queensland with bad stomach cramps and then he was ill all day,” Stuart said of Wighton.
“It was touch and go and the decision was left to Jack and it was probably more the courageous decision to say, ‘No I can’t play’.
“That was 1?? hours before kick off. Disappointing to lose Jack be we were lucky to have Zac on standby in North Queensland as one of our players ready to stand up.”
Stuart decided to take Paulo to Townsville so he could train with the squad last week, even though he was suspended for round one.
It was to allow the Green Machine to continue to build their combinations looking forward in the season.
Paulo comes back into the line-up to face the Sharks, who boast a forward pack with Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham.
It’s a timely boost for the Raiders, who have lost Clay Priest (suspension) and Joe Tapine (hand) this week, while Dave Taylor (suspension) also remains unavailable until round three if he recovers from an ankle injury.
Stuart was hoping that decision to take Paulo north will pay off when the Sharks come south.
“He came away with us and trained in North Queensland, which was a benefit for Junior to be able to keep training with our performance team,” the Raiders coach said.
“He’s fit and he’s healthy and he really is excited about the challenge and he’s excited about getting his first game for ’17.”
Stuart said things weren’t going the Raiders’ way in terms of suspensions and injuries, which have forced them to chop and change their line-up in the opening two rounds of the season.
It’s meant he’s had to switch second-rower Elliott Whitehead to centre, but it’s also enabled the Canberra mentor to blood new players.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Cotric made his debut on the wing against the Cowboys and now former Shark second-rower Scott Sorensen will make his Raiders debut off the bench against his old club.
He played three NRL games for Cronulla, but came to Canberra through their NSW Cup affiliate Mounties last season.
“I like what I saw last year when he was playing for Mounties at premier league. Very professional young player, he’s very fit, he’s healthy and he’s got a lot of great desire and attitude,” Stuart said.
“I wouldn’t be playing Scotty if I didn’t think he was up to first-grade standard, he certainly is.
“I enjoy debuting young boys because I love seeing their body language, I love seeing their excitement. That’s what it’s all about.”
NRL ROUND TWO
Saturday: Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks at Canberra Stadium, 7.30pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.
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