Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
Ricky Stuart believes his current crop of Raiders players can't compete without a few big name additions, and centre Jack Wighton says the onus is on the playing group to prove the former Origin coach wrong.
Stuart pulled no punches after the Raiders' 34-16 loss to the Dragons last Saturday, declaring "until I get Origin and international players in around that group of blokes there, it ain't going to change."
The defeat not only broke the Dragons' 14-year drought in the nation's capital, but extended the Raiders' own winless streak to five matches, with only a Round 18 triumph over the Titans to show for their efforts since Origin I at the end of May.
The Raiders currently sit ahead of the last-placed Sharks on percentages alone, and should they go down to the struggling Cronulla outfit in Sunday's wooden spoon showdown, they will be odds-on to claim the game's most unwanted piece of cutlery for the first time since 1982.
Twenty-one-year-old Wighton, who earlier this year was a part of an extended NSW squad ahead of Origin II and ranks as one of Canberra's brightest prospects, says he and his teammates will have a point to prove at Remondis Stadium.
"The only way to really take it is as a form of encouragement I guess to make your own game better," Wighton says.
"You've got to try and fix yourself when you hear stuff like that.
"There's no use crying over spilt milk so it's on us to try and improve the situation, make it better and take it as a another motivator. There's no point letting it beat you down or putting any extra pressure on you."
The Raiders have suffered a wretched run of injuries over the back end of the season, much like the Sharks, and will head into the game without retiring prop Brett White, who is out for 1-2 weeks with a groin strain and fullback Jordan Rapana, who suffered a fractured skull last Saturday and joins Shaun Fenson (knee), David Shillington (pectoral) and hooker Kurt Baptiste (shoulder), on the sidelines for the remainder of 2014.
Halfback Terry Campese (oblique) and outside back Brenko Lee (hamstring) are still in doubt after missing the loss to the Dragons, and Wighton – who only returned himself from a five-week layoff with a broken thumb in the past fortnight – is adamant the Raiders' poor season has not been worthy of a last-place finish.
"We definitely don't deserve the wooden spoon," Wighton says.
"There's a few games that have gone either way this year, with a little bit of luck and a couple of different bounces of the ball it's a different story.
"Even though we've been down and out in a few games, we've really hung tight as a squad and we've always turned up with the right intentions, it just hasn't worked this year."