Joel Edwards will return to the NRL this weekend after mssing last week after several consecutive concussions.Canberra centre Jarrod Croker has launched a passionate defence of Jack Wighton’s displays at five-eighth, insisting he has been one of the Raiders’ best players, and a key factor in his own superb start to the season.
Croker has been Canberra’s most dangerous player playing outside Wighton in its slow start to the year, and backed the 21-year-old when asked his opinion of his progress by coach Ricky Stuart on Monday.
Wighton moved from the centres to the no.6 jersey this season and is viewed as a long term prospect there by Stuart.
“Stick [Stuart] asked how I thought he was going and I said I’m enjoying having him there,” Croker said, who has scored five tries in six games this year.
“He’s got a long way to go and Jack knows that, but I think he’s been great for us and he’s given me plenty of good early ball.
“There’s no reason to panic. He’s showing some great signs already, so imagine what it will be like in the back end of the season and years to come.”
Croker was subject to criticism of his defence early in his career, but has developed into one of Canberra’s most pivotal players.
He urged Wighton to ignore the outside judgement and focus on continuing to improve against Melbourne at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
“I copped a lot early on in my career about defence, I thought it’s been pretty good this year and Jack has a lot to do with that,” he said.
“We all know Jack’s a strong defender and he gives me that confidence having him there beside me on that left edge.”
He said he’d be happy to counsel Wighton if he needs self-assurance.
“It [criticism] can get you down and it can get frustrating, but he has no right to be upset about his game this year,” he said.
“Anyone would struggle with confidence if you’re thrown into a position where you haven’t played any first grade games.
“He was probably doubting himself a bit at the start, but the way he’s played the first six weeks he’s got no reason to.”
Commentator and former Queensland Origin five-eighth Ben Ikin this week backed Canberra’s decision to persist with Wighton in the halves, despite Canberra’s disorganisation in attack in last week’s home loss to Newcastle.
“I agree with Benny saying it’s the subtlety of the position he has to learn, and the only way to learn is by playing,” Stuart said.
“It would be very easy to put him in another position but I’ve got to think about the end of the season, next season and the future for Jack Wighton going forward.
“We’re breaking down in attack on the back end of sets which we need to get better at, but his game on the weekend was strong and his kicking game was good.”
Stuart was adamant fullback Anthony Milford isn’t playing under duress, despite wearing heavy strapping on his left knee for the past two games.
He said the 19-year-old is nursing a minor medial strain.
“He’ll shake it off, I wouldn’t play him if there was a risk,” Stuart said.
The Raiders welcome back second rower Joel Edwards from concussion, who replaces Jarrad Kennedy in the only team change.
Melbourne is likely to be without centre Will Chambers after he was cited for a shoulder charge by the judiciary on Dragons fullback Josh Dugan in Monday night’s win at AAMI Park.
Chambers can accept a two match ban if he takes the early plea, but will risk three weeks if he fights the charge and loses.
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