Ricky Stuart changes halves

SPORT: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans match at Canberra Stadium. Raiders player Terry Campese react after loosing the match. 23rd March 2014. Photo by Melissa Adams of The Canberra Times. Photo: Melissa Adams MLA Terry Campese returns to the No.6 jersey for Sunday’s match against Penrith. Photo: Melissa Adams
Nanjing Night Net

Will young gun Mitch Cornish be called into the side after being named in an extended bench on Tuesday? Photo: Melissa Adams

The Canberra Raiders have ditched their halves experiment as part of a major overhaul designed to snap them out of their slump.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has wielded the axe, dumping three players and making several positional switches for Sunday’s match against the Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium.

The most notable is breaking up the new-look halves combination of Jack Wighton and captain Terry Campese after just nine games.

Campese moves to five-eighth, Josh McCrone shifts from dummy-half to return to halfback and Wighton is back in the centres.

The changes may not be over yet, with promising halfback Mitch Cornish a chance to be a late inclusion for his NRL debut after being included in an extended 21-man squad.

Former Raiders captain Alan Tongue said the return of McCrone to the halves would take pressure off Campese and allow him to play his natural game.

“Whenever Josh McCrone has jumped into the halves this season he’s done really well and he’s been one of the Raiders’ best in the last couple of seasons,” Tongue said.

“He’s a good ball-runner and takes it right to the line, so hopefully that will help (Campese’s) game, too.

“Jack Wighton is probably more comfortable in the centre position and there’s been some defensive issues on the edges.”

After playing his first two NRL seasons on the wing and the centres, Wighton was moved to five-eighth this year for the first time since he was in the juniors.

“I don’t think he’s been that bad, but I think everyone was expecting a bit too much out of him,” Tongue said.

“Give him time back in his preferred position and he’ll be fine.

“I don’t think it (having Wighton at five-eighth) is something you would never go back to, but this was an opportunity for Josh McCrone to go back there.”

Cornish was set to debut for the Raiders in the final round last year, but the 21-year-old Goulburn product wasn’t allowed because of NRL salary cap restrictions.

He captained the NSW under-20s team last year and was also in the Junior Kangaroos side in 2012.

In other changes, winger Mosese Pangai will make his debut for the Raiders after coming in at the expense of Bill Tupou.

Second-rower Jarrad Kennedy takes over the No.12 jersey, back-up hooker Matt McIlwrick has been recalled while forward Paul Vaughan moves to the bench.

Centre Matt Allwood and forward Kyle O’Donnell have been dropped, although O’Donnell is in the extended squad along with Cornish, Shannon Boyd and Sami Sauiluma.

Pangai, 22, is in his first season at the Raiders having played one game with the North Queensland Cowboys in 2012.

The mass changes are in response to the Raiders conceding more than 50 points in their past two games for just the second time in the club’s history.

The Raiders (3-6) were thrashed 54-12 by the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland last weekend – a fortnight after a 54-18 belting at the hands of Manly at Brookvale Oval.

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