Canberra back Matt Allwood has been recalled for Friday’s match against the Bulldogs. Photo: Jay CronanCanberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is aiming to ambush the Bulldogs with a late shake-up to his team for Friday night’s match at Canberra Stadium and the biggest surprise could be the inclusion of teenage rookie Brenko Lee for his NRL debut.
Stuart refused to confirm any team changes on the eve of the match, desperate to keep his game-plan under wraps.
But the Raiders have lost five of their last six matches and, hit by injury and suspension, it’s understood Stuart is looking at major personnel and positional changes to throw something different at the Dogs.
Canberra’s pack has been depleted by injuries to Josh Papalii and Joel Edwards, while representative forward Paul Vaughan is suspended. But the Raiders are equally desperate for more strike out wide, bringing 18-year-old Lee into contention for his debut.
Lee is the cousin of injured Raiders winger Edrick Lee and is considered a one of the most exciting prospects at the club, having trained with the NRL squad in the off-season and signed to an extended three-year deal.
The Raiders had also considered Junior Kiwi Jeremy Hawkins for his NRL debut, before the 21-year-old was ruled out with a suspension in NSW Cup.
The Raiders have confirmed one big change to their squad, dropping veteran winger Reece Robinson and recalling 21-year-old rookie Matt Allwood.
Having started the first nine games of the season at centre, Allwood has not played NRL since the 54-12 loss to the Warriors and then the announcement he would be joining the Auckland team next season on a three-year deal.
Allwood admitted he’d had doubts if he’d be picked for the Raiders in the NRL again, but said Stuart had made a “good call” by dropping him last month.
“My performances weren’t up to the standard I wanted them to be and weren’t up to par,” Allwood said. “I don’t hold it against anyone for being dropped. I’ve worked hard to get back into the team.
“It wasn’t a good two weeks [before that, conceding more than 50 points to Manly and the Warriors]. Changes needed to be made and I think Ricky made a good call … I don’t blame him for what he did.”
Allwood said he remained comfortable with his decision to join the Warriors next season, but was “100 per cent committed” to the Raiders for 2014.
He compared it to the situation confronting Raiders fullback Anthony Milford, who has signed with Brisbane next year.
“He’s a good example, he’s signed with another club and still doing everything right by the Raiders. He’s coming in each week, giving his best, that’s the mentality you need.
“I’ve been looking forward to getting back in there and the opportunity’s there again, so I’m going to give it my best.”
Robinson had a nightmare under the high ball in Canberra’s loss to the Brisbane Broncos, and Allwood expects to be tested by the kicking games of the Bulldogs’ Origin halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson.
“I feel most comfortable playing centre, but I enjoy the challenge of fullback or wing,” he said. “They’re both similar defensively, a lot of it is one-on-one tackles, it’ll be right.
“I expect to have a few high balls up there, but I’m comfortable with that.”