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Raiders back Wighton in Thurston NRL clash

Canberra centre Jarrod Croker has backed new five-eighth Jack Wighton's strong defence to hold its own against the "world's best player" Johnathan Thurston in their NRL season opener on Saturday.
Raiders back Wighton in Thurston NRL clash
by AAP

By David Barbeler

CANBERRA, March 3 AAP - Canberra centre Jarrod Croker has backed new five-eighth Jack Wighton's strong defence to hold its own against the "world's best player" Johnathan Thurston in their NRL season opener on Saturday.

New Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has confirmed that Wighton - after impressing in the halves in the trials - will play against North Queensland in the No.6 jersey in Townsville, pushing skipper Terry Campese to halfback.

It means the 21-year-old, who has played 27 NRL games primarily at wing and centre, will undergo a baptism of fire in his new position when he fronts up against a big Cowboys forward pack that will pave the way for Thurston to wreak havoc.

While Croker admits Golden Boot holder Thurston is hands down the world's best player, he says one of Wighton's strongest assets is his size and strength in defence.

Wighton is a solid 90kg, while his halves partner Campese isn't too far behind most forwards at 102kg.

"(Thurston) is tough to shut down; it's easier said than done," Croker said.

"But Jacko in the halves there is a pretty strong defender, we all know that, so I don't think we're too worried about that.

"Our big boys have got to beat their big boys, and that will go a long way to slowing Thurston down."

Croker also tipped Campese to return to his attacking best in the season ahead following a hesitant 2013.

The 29-year-old former NSW Blues and Kangaroos representative received criticism from some quarters in his comeback season last year for not running the ball enough following two serious knee injuries.

"The way Campo has trained, I haven't seen him like this for years," Croker said.

"We know he's a devastating ball runner. When he runs the ball to the line, he just creates that much more opportunity for blokes around him."

However, Croker admitted it might take a few games for Campese to hit his stride.

"Not putting any pressure on him, I'm sure he'll be fine," Croker said.

"He's had a tough time of it, but hopefully we see the best of Campo."


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