While there’s excitement about the Raiders’ return to GIO Stadium tonight to take on the improving Dragons, there have been a few headlines hovering over the club during game week that are unsettling.
The most notable bombshell that dropped was that English second-rower John Bateman will leave the Green Machine at the end the 2020 NRL season when they couldn’t agree to terms.
This weekend will also see heavily criticised centre Curtis Scott lose his starting spot after a string of poor performances. The 22-year-old will be on the bench when the first whistle blows.
There is some good news, though. The Raiders are back home after six consecutive matches on the road on the Gold Coast, and in Melbourne and Campbelltown.
Stuart’s men are lacking a bit of confidence at this moment with only one win from their last four encounters, while the Dragons head into the game having won two of their last three matches.
Stuart was justifiably disappointed to learn the 2019 Dally M Second Rower of the Year will be leaving the club, but Stuart highlighted that he and John still have a good relationship despite his rift with the Englishman’s agent.
“We were sick of waiting and we knew what was going to happen,” Stuart said. “To Don’s [Furner] credit he put a timeline on his manager and we got what we knew was coming.
“It’s disappointing because John is a big part of the squad and a world-class player. We here at the club work so hard to build a strong roster and then you’re getting players who pull out the way John has and it’s disappointed me.
“I have a lot of respect for John as a bloke, I got along with him very well and as a footballer I have the highest degree of respect for him. We offered John a really really good offer to his English manager and then his new manager. I thought the words ‘you are getting closer’ were disrespectful to Don and the club and that day I knew we wouldn’t be keeping John.”
The other headache is Cutis Scott.
Stuart noted that he pulled former Melbourne Storm player Scott from the starting side due to the player’s struggles and the team currently not gelling the way he wants it to.
“It’s unfortunate for Curtis at the moment, but he is just out of form and I think that is more through confidence,” Stuart mentioned.
“The first three games where I had Curtis and George [Williams] on the right edge, we found some really good form and they were building some great confidence.
“We just fell out of shape a little bit and out of sorts and I spoke to Curtis saying he’s on the bench but he’s there for a reason. He’s had a lot of pressure put on him through conversations and criticisms publicly and I just wanted to take a bit of heat off him to be honest.
“I wasn’t going to drop him to hang him out to dry so to speak. I want to show him that he has the support of the players and the staff and we will get him back into the squad at some stage when he will be a lot more confident and back to the form that we know he can play.”
Stuart has made three changes to the starting side with Scott, Jordan Rapana and Corey Horsburgh making way for Bailey Simonsson, Michael Oldfield (making his first start of the year) and Joe Tapine.
Canberra Raiders round eight team list v St George Illawarra Dragons
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Bailey Simonsson, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Michael Oldfield, 5. Nick Cotric, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. George Williams, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Sia Soliola, 11. Hudson Young, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Joe Tapine, 14. Curtis Scott, 15. Emre Guler, 16. Ryan Sutton, 17. Siliva Havili.
18. Tom Starling, 19. Dunamis Lui, 20. Matt Frawley, 21. Kai O’Donnell.
Jordan Rapana – Calf – Round 9-10
Corey Horsburgh – Indefinite
John Bateman – Shoulder – Indefinite.