Canberra Raiders’ Mitch Cornish has beaten Sam Williams for the No.7 jersey in Sunday night’s season-opener at Cronulla. Photo: Rohan ThomsonCanberra Raiders’ youngster Mitch Cornish has beaten Sam Williams for the No.7 jersey in Sunday night’s season-opener at Cronulla and lock Shaun Fensom has passed a fitness test on his injured hamstring.
Jordan Rapana’s strong trial form ensured he leapfrogged Jeremy Hawkins for the right wing spot, while Englishman Josh Hodgson will start at hooker as one of five recruits named to make their Raiders debut.
In other key selections; Josh McCrone edged out Glen Buttriss and Williams for the utility role; Recruits Sia Soloiola (right back rower), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (bench), Blake Austin (five-eighth) and Sisa Waqa (wing) will all make their Raiders debuts.Jack Wighton has been given the chance to lock down fullback after starring there in the final three games of last season;Edrick Lee will start at right centre after playing most of his 24 NRL games on the wing.
It will also be Jarrod Croker’s NRL captaincy debut after replacing Terry Campese following his move to English Super League club Hull KR.
Fensom returned to action with 20 minutes left in Canberra’s last trial against Newcastle, just six months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament.
But the 26-year-old got through Tuesday’s training session unscathed to set up a head-to-head lock battle with Cronulla and NSW skipper Paul Gallen.
“We had a pretty solid session and I got through it sweet, I’m good to go,” Fensom said.
“It would have been a blow but I have to make sure I’m right and not going out there less than 100 per cent, I wouldn’t do that.”
Fensom’s inclusion allows Paul Vaughan to return to his usual front row spot.
“It’s always a tough job filling Fenno’s position because he does so much work,” Vaughan said.
“I’m not too sure how he’ll go with 80 minutes because he’s coming off a pretty serious injury.
“He probably will get through the 80 but if I have to play lock I’ll be happy to do so.
“He’s a freak of a man and his attention to detail on and off the field is unbelievable, that’s why he’s put himself in this position.”
Both teams feature new halves pairings with Wests Tigers recruit Austin and Cornish looking to establish themselves, while prize recruit Ben Barba will partner Jeff Robson for Cronulla.
Canberra’s spine has undergone a radical overhaul with Wighton replacing Anthony Milford down back and Hodgson getting first crack at dummy half.
Lee played just eight game last year because of injury but has the chance to establish a potent right edge combination with representative back-rower Josh Papalii.
“I managed to get a few games there last year and I’ll see it as a challenge,” Lee said.
“It’s just getting used to being one-in and getting used to the positioning in defence and in attack.
“I’ve missed [most of] the last two years due to injury. One thing I’ve wanted to do is look after myself more and make sure the body is right for the season ahead.”
NRL round one: Cronulla v Canberra at Remondis Stadium, 6.30pm Sunday
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Sisa Waqa, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Edrick Lee, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Mitchell Cornish, 8 David Shillington, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Dane Tilse, 11 Josh Papalii, 12 Sia Soliola, 13 Shaun Fensom. Bench: 14 Josh McCrone, 15 Frank-Paul Nuuausala, 16 Paul Vaughan, 17 Shannon Boyd.
Sharks: 1 Michael Gordon, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Gerard Beale, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Mitch Brown, 6 Ben Barba, 7 Jeff Robson, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Michael Ennis, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Jayson Bukuya, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen (c). Bench: 14 Chris Heighington, 15 Tinirau Arona, 16 Anthony Tupou, 17 David Fifita, 18 Valentine Holmes, 19 Jack Bird.
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