Greg Prichard,, NRL.com
Canberra players were convinced Reece Robinson had it in him to make the fullback position his own in the wake of bad boy Josh Dugan's sacking. Robinson's two-try, starring performance against St George Illawarra only confirmed their opinion.
As rumours circulate about Dugan’s possible NRL rebirth at either St George Illawarra or Brisbane, his former Canberra teammates reaffirmed their commitment to their new custodian Robinson.
"We knew what Reece was capable of," said centre Jarrod Croker, who also came up with two tries – one of them Robinson's making – in the 30-17 win over the Dragons at Canberra Stadium on Sunday that the Raiders hope will kick-start their season.
However, they are under no illusions and know they need to build on that performance to compete with Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. The Knights whipped North Queensland 34-6 at the same venue on Monday night.
"We saw it last year when Reecey filled in at No.1," Croker said. "He's a class act. He showed against the Dragons what he is capable of, and he's definitely got more improvement in him. He's destined for bigger and better things, Reecey, and he's going to become a key guy in our attack."
Robinson came into grade football as a winger, but when Dugan was injured last season he got a chance at fullback and his statistics have compared favourably to Dugan's all along.
Now that Robinson knows the opportunity is there for him to make the position his own permanently, his teammates believe he will take his game to a new level.
"It's there for Reecey to grab, and keep going with it," Croker said. "Last year he was in and out of fullback and on the wing, and this year if he wants the fullback spot it's his to take. I'm confident he won't take his foot off the pedal.
"Reece is the type of bloke who is going to go out there and have a crack every week. He trained his backside off over the summer, and he is one of those guys you know is always going to be there for you as a player."
Canberra's international prop, Brett White, predicted after Dugan was sacked by the club for off-field disciplinary issues after the Round 1 loss to Penrith that Robinson had the potential to become a superstar of the NRL.
And in the wake of Robinson's performance against St George Illawarra, White says that is just a taste of things to come.
"He's a real talent, and we've known that for a while at this club," he said. "It was great to see him get the man-of-the-match award against the Dragons. He's a great player, yet he's just so humble about his ability.
"Reece is a natural footballer. He's probably been very underrated outside of our club, but I don't think that will be the case any longer. He's got the ability to scare teams."
White said the Raiders had moved on from the Dugan saga and were concentrating on building on Sunday's win, which followed heavy losses against the Panthers and Gold Coast in the first two rounds.
"Yeah, that's it," White agreed. "We've got the season to worry about. It's last week's news. We've moved on from that [the Dugan saga] and I think we showed that with the good job we did against the Dragons."
White was making his first appearance in an NRL game since undergoing a knee reconstruction early last season. He had played in a couple of pre-season trial matches and a NSW Cup match, but his scheduled NRL return in Round 2 was scrapped because of a bicep injury.
White said he had pulled up well from the Dragons game, adding: "It was a bit of a shock to the system, trying to get used to the pace of an NRL match again. But it's just great to be back playing footy. I love my footy, and it had been nearly 12 months since I'd played first grade."
The Raiders maintain that their form in the first two rounds was more to do with poor ball control than anything else, and was always something that could be fixed quickly.
"There was a lot of talk in the media about us being under pressure after the first two rounds," Croker said. "But we knew what we had to do. We had to stick to the game plan and try to keep our completion rate up around 80 per cent, which we weren't far off.
"It was a relief to win, after losing the first two, but we knew all along that we had it in us."