As the Canberra Raiders hope young gun Anthony Milford will decide to stay with the club next season, they could be reliant on his decision-making against the Canterbury Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Coach David Furner said on Monday that captain and playmaker Terry Campese was ”unlikely” to play against the Bulldogs after a collision with teammate David Shillington in the 28-22 loss to the Sydney Roosters on the weekend, raising the possibility of Milford taking his place.
Campese had scans on Monday afternoon and will see a specialist on Wednesday.
With clouds also over second-rower Joel Thompson (food poisoning) and workhorse Shaun Fensom (thumb), Furner said he would not know his final line-up until late in the week. Thompson was expected to be right for Saturday, but there was less confidence about Fensom.
The Raiders were confident Campese had not fractured his eye socket. The main concern is his eye, which was still closed when Furner visited him on Sunday.
”We’re just going to wait on the specialist on Wednesday and then make a decision,” Furner told Fairfax Media. ”At this stage, he’s probably unlikely.
”I’ll obviously name him and hope he’s right. It’s something you can’t take any risks on with the eye.”
Dragons-bound halfback Sam Williams (ankle) is still with the rehabilitation group and Saturday could come too soon for the 22-year-old’s return to first grade.
Which means Milford looks the most likely to cover for five-eighth Campese.
It would also pave the way for a recall for out-of-favour fullback Reece Robinson, who was omitted from the Roosters clash.
Youngster Mitch Cornish, who has been playing for Mounties in the NSW Cup, is not expected to get a call-up.
”There is a chance Tony goes into the halves, you’ve got young Mitch Cornish,” Furner said.
”Where Sam’s at, I’ll know a bit more tomorrow, so we’ve got some guys there that can certainly fill the role.”
Milford is seeking a release from his contract for next year to return home to Queensland to be closer to his father, Halo, who had a heart attack 18 months ago.
It has the Brisbane Broncos salivating at the chance to sign one of the NRL’s most promising juniors.
If he does wear the No.6 jersey, Milford will need to put the turmoil aside to focus on the game.
Raiders centre Jarrod Croker was confident Milford would have no problem doing exactly that.
”I haven’t asked him about it, I haven’t talked to him about it one bit, but as far as I’ve seen, Tony’s been his normal self around training,” he said.
”His training’s been fine, his attitude and him in general has been no different as far as I’m concerned. It hasn’t really affected him.”
Campese’s loss isn’t just as the playmaker, it’s also his leadership.
It’s an area the Raiders have had to cover regularly over the past three seasons because of his knee and groin injuries.
Croker felt the Raiders had a strong leadership group and would be able to cover any void left by their captain.
”Josh McCrone will stand up, I know he will, and myself included in the backs, myself and [Blake Ferguson] will have to step up the leadership there,” Croker said.
”Our forward pack is a massive part of our leadership group and they’re going to put their hands up and rip in.”
Furner was expecting to name an extended squad on Tuesday and a final line-up might not be known until game day.
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