With Jarrod Croker almost certain to secure the left centre position, the question many Raiders fans will be pondering is who exactly will partner him on the right hand edge?
Despite being just 23 years of age, Croker has already achieved the 100 game milestone and notched 50 career tries. As he embarks on his sixth year of first grade, Croker now shapes as the most pivotal centre in the Raiders backline for 2014.
Although he is known for his try scoring prowess and razor sharp goal kicking, Croker is an incredibly durable customer who has averaged 23 games per season since his debut in 2009.
In that time, Croker has developed to such a degree that he is almost certain to be the first choice left centre for the Green Machine this season.
He is a go-to man for the Raiders when the side needs to register some points on the scoreboard and his combination with Captain Terry Campese on the left edge is lauded by the Canberra faithful.
After copping some criticism for his defence in recent years Croker has worked hard to amend that facet of his game and can now be relied upon to capably mark any opposition centre in the game.
With Croker shoring up the left hand edge, the question many Raiders fans will be pondering is who exactly will partner him on the right hand edge?
After playing a mixture of centre and wing – on either the right or the left side – Wighton looms as the man most likely to partner Croker in the centres.
Wighton grew up playing centre and five-eighth however his raw athletic ability and natural football nous saw him break into the Raiders NRL side on the wing.
He subsequently proved to be a ‘Mr Fix-it’ for the Raiders backline due to his versatility however Wighton has set his eyes on nailing down the vacant right centre position in 2014 and it is a position that Wighton can make his own for as long as he wants.
Whilst Wighton exudes speed, flair and skill in attack his defensive prowess should not be overshadowed. He is one tough hombre and one of the best defenders pound for pound at the club. He would be able to handle the full-time positional switch like a duck to water
The 20 year old is not only one of the most exciting prospects at the club but in the game. Wighton’s form and immense promise saw him gain selection in the Country Origin team at centre as well as coming off the bench and filling the role for the Indigenous All Stars in 2013.
NSW Coach Laurie Daley has already earmarked him as a potential Blues player of the future and a move closer to the action at centre will better showcase his prodigious talents.
Another option for Coach Ricky Stuart is to shift the long striding Edrick Lee from wing to centre.
Lee made his mark in the NRL from the wing netting 13 tries in 16 appearances however is no stranger to the centre position having set the NYC alight in the position in 2012 when he was named the NYC Centre of the Year.
He also scored a double for the Queensland Under 20s State of Origin side playing in the centres.
The 21 year old is blessed with great pace, an underrated palm and fantastic instinctive evasion skills. Whilst his attacking ability is unquestioned, if Lee can prove to Stuart that he can handle the increased defensive work-load that would come from the positional switch to the centres, then he will challenge Wighton for the vacant right centre position.
The dark horse in the contenders for the centre positions is the young but undeniably talented Matt Allwood.
Whilst Allwood may be relatively unknown to Raiders fans he is a highly rated prospect in the eyes of club officials.
Allwood is blessed with a plethora of speed and is hard to catch when in open pastures. Whilst his attacking game receives plenty of plaudits, Allwood’s NYC Coach Andrew Dunemann, lavished praise on the 21 year olds ruthless approach to defence.
The lightning quick 21 year old progressed through to the club’s first grade squad after starring in the centres for Canberra’s NYC Cup side in 2012 and he proved to be one of Mounties best in the NSW Cup last year.
Allwood is determined to make his first grade in 2014 and if he consistently plays to his best for Mounties then there is no reason why his name won’t be spoken with excitement from a growing multitude of Raiders fans during the upcoming season.
Another young player that may also come into consideration is Edrick Lee’s younger cousin Brenko.
Brenko is still at the tender age of 18 but his explosive performances in the NYC last year and his mature efforts in pre-season with the NRL squad has impressed Coach Ricky Stuart considerably.
Stuart was so impressed with Brenko that he re-signed the promising youngster until 2016 and included him in the full-time NRL squad.
While Stuart would be loath to rush the Queensland Under 20s rep into the side before his time, Brenko’s talent is hard to ignore and his maturity levels have gone through the roof since training with the NRL squad.
Raiders fans should take close notice of the club’s trials to see how the Souths Logan junior fares.