David Polkinghorne May 22, 2012
Canberra Raiders player Josh McCrone trains at Raiders HQ. Photo: Jay Cronan
The Canberra Raiders have backed halfback Josh McCrone to fill any leadership void left by David Shillington's absence on State of Origin duties.
Shillington was in camp with Queensland in Victoria, preparing for tomorrow night's Origin I at Etihad Stadium, and will only have two days to recover for the Raiders' Friday night game against South Sydney at Canberra Stadium.
The Raiders vice-captain was named acting captain after knee injuries ended the years of captain Terry Campese and fellow vice-captain Brett White.
How Shillington pulls up after Origin will determine how much game time he gets against the Rabbitohs but both he and fellow front-rower Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, a member of the Raiders leadership group, have full faith in McCrone taking a leading role.
Unlike McCrone, the big forwards never play the full 80 minutes making the halfback the ideal on-field leader.
''Having assumed the team director's role from 'Campo' it's important for him to show that leadership and I know it's something he's keen to do and has been working on and he's showing great signs there,'' Shillington told The Canberra Times from Melbourne yesterday.
''We'll continue to work together. It's been hard not having 'Whitey' and Campo there for me, I really enjoyed working with them, but having Josh there, I'll be there to back him up as much as possible, and vice versa, and hopefully we can lead the boys in the right direction.''
The Raiders prop was confident the two-day break wouldn't be a problem, pointing to his efforts in 2010 when he backed up four days after an Origin encounter to play one of his ''best games of the year'' against the Wests Tigers.
He would focus on his recovery, diet and sleep to ensure he was cherry ripe for the Rabbitohs.
''I think sometimes your game adjusts to that Origin standard, with the intensity and the speed, and then when you drop back to club footy it seems to roll through a bit easier,'' Shillington said. ''I won't be expecting that to happen but hopefully that happens again.''
He will fly directly from Melbourne to Sydney and rejoin the Raiders on Thursday night.
Fellow big bopper Learoyd-Lahrs also had confidence in Shillington's recuperative powers, but was willing to shoulder a greater workload if needed.
He hasn't played Origin since 2010 and was desperate to get back into a NSW jersey.
But Learoyd-Lahrs said neither he nor the Raiders would be distracted by the occasion with their sole focus on beating the hot Rabbitohs, who have won their past three games.
A Raiders win would mark their first back-to-back victories since beating the Sydney Roosters in round 17 last season.
Learoyd-Lahrs felt leadership during a game was only a small part of the job, with day-to-day leadership at the club also an important factor.
''That's the other part of leadership where we can help out there,'' he said. ''Making sure we train well with plenty of enthusiasm and make sure we keep talking throughout the whole session. If we're preparing well usually it leads to a lot better performance.''
Second-rower Josh Papalii looks set to miss Friday's game with nerve damage to his arm, opening the way for Sam Mataora to return to the 17.
It will be the Raiders' second Friday night game of the season and will be shown live both in Canberra and Sydney. It is the start of a vital run of three games heading into the club's next bye, with the 12th-placed Raiders to also face the Tigers (home) and Knights (away). Canberra has won two of its five away matches in season 2012.
NRL round 12: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium, 7.30pm. TV time: Live on WIN.