Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart admits he has been left with a massive headache after Josh Hodgson was ruled out for the season, but is backing Tom Starling to fill the void.
Hodgson has been ruled out of the 2022 NRL season after being told he needs a knee reconstruction. It means the Englishman has now played his last game for the Raiders after he agreed a deal to join Parramatta.
The hooker was hoping to go out on a high by guiding the Raiders back into finals. However he will now have to watch on from the sidelines before heading to the Eels for 2023.
The news comes as a huge blow to Stuart who has selection issues just two games into the season. He is already without star halfback Jamal Fogarty who will not return until midway through the campaign. And he could have done without losing Hodgson.
Huge hole to fill
Canberra Raiders were mauled 26-6 by the North Queensland Cowboys in their first game without Hodgson. The Cowboys are a long-shot for finals this season so the manner of the defeat was alarming.
They will now attempt to bounce back against the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday. There is a hole to fill and Stuart could not hide his disappointment at losing Hodgson.
“Losing Josh for the season now gives us a headache,” he told reporters ahead of the Titans clash. “It puts pressure on the other players who have to fill in those positions.”
Stuart will now put his faith in Starling to do the job and says he has what it takes. Starling has filled in for Hodgson in the past and will now have to step up to the plate once again.
“Tom is a tough, conscientious style of player,” Stuart added. “He is still developing and improving and that is certainly the way he trains too. He doesn’t lack any attention to detail with his training, he works very hard and is committed.”
There is at least some good news for the Raiders this weekend. Jordan Rapana will return from suspension and goes straight in against the Gold Coast.
“Jordy brings a lot of energy to the team,” Stuart said. “He is one of our characters and the boys get a buzz around Jordy. His experience back on the edge will be good.”
Stuart has also revealed Jarrod Croker is closing in on a return following a knee injury. The Titans game will come too soon for the skipper but he is not far away.