Back troubles frustrate Furner as Raiders face fitness race for season start

Feet up: Josh Dugan takes it easy at training. Photo: Colleen Petch Canberra coach David Furner will decide on Thursday whether to gamble on back-line stars Josh Dugan and Jarrod Croker in Sunday’s season opener, with key back-up Reece Robinson also in doubt for the Penrith match.

Dugan and Croker were both put through fitness tests on Wednesday afternoon. Furner rated both players better than a 50-50 chance of playing against the Panthers.

Their late inclusion would be a massive bonus for the Raiders, especially after Robinson sat out training on Wednesday because of back spasms.

Robinson had been named at fullback in place of Dugan, and was also in line to take over the goal-kicking duties from Croker.

But the Indigenous All Stars representative winger had acupuncture treatment after straining his back in a weights session.

The Raiders took a conservative approach with Dugan and Croker, but both have surprised coaching staff with speedy recoveries.

Croker was put through a tough tackling session at the end of Wednesday’s training to test his injured right knee. But the NRL’s leading points scorer last year did not take part in a session with goal-kicking guru Daryl Halligan.

Having been hospitalised for three days with a lip infection, Dugan ran strongly on Wednesday. If Dugan, Croker and Robinson are unavailable, Blake Ferguson is next in line to kick goals.

Furner said he would make a call on positions on Thursday, giving combinations time to gel before Sunday’s kick-off.

”There’s no excuses,” Furner said. ”I wouldn’t even call it a disruption. I’ve got players there that have been training in the top squad all pre-season. If I have to make changes, I make changes. [Dugan and Croker] have upped the ante from 50-50, both of them. But these games I need them fully fit. I need to see how they pull up.”

Former Kangaroos prop Brett White is almost certain to drop off the Raiders bench and could play NSW Cup with the Mounties. The Raiders want to increase his game time as White continues his comeback from knee reconstruction.

Hooker Glen Buttriss is expected to be given another week off to recover from an ankle injury, while Terry Campese isn’t likely to be fit until at least round three.

Meanwhile, Shaun Johnson’s right elbow might not be 100 per cent, but the star halfback is confident it will stand up to the rigours of the Warriors’ season-opening match against Parramatta on Saturday night.

Johnson, 22, has made an earlier than expected return after hyperextending the joint in a trial in Dunedin on February 23.

”From Monday’s field session to today’s field session, I’m feeling a lot more confident about it,” he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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