McCrone leading battle for Raiders' No.7

In-form Canberra halfback Josh McCrone will run onto the Sydney Football Stadium tomorrow night knowing that another high-quality performance will go a long way towards securing his future with the Raiders.<br><br>One of three up-and-coming playmakers battling it out to become the club’s next long-term no.7, McCrone is currently leading the pack after his starring performance in last week’s upset win over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium.<br><br>Yet while he is quick to shrug off talk that he is essentially playing for a contract, the 23-year-old says he can’t afford to rest on his laurels against the Roosters this weekend.<br><br>“I’m just worried about playing first grade each week and if I do that the contract stuff will take care of itself,” he told NRL.com today. <br><br>“At the moment it’s about playing good footy week to week and holding my spot.”<br><br>Asked if he felt the pressure of playing for his future, McCrone said: “I don’t look at it that way.<br><br>“I just want to play first grade because I don’t see myself even as a regular first grader at the moment. But things are starting to go okay. <br><br>“I’m not where I want to be just yet but I’m heading in the right direction I think.”<br><br>McCrone talks of taking small steps in his quest to make the halfback role his own, but his performance against Parramatta last week – which included a brilliant solo try when he spotted space behind the line and grubbered through – was enough to earn the praise of coach David Furner.<br><br>Aware of the pressure his young halfback is under from rivals Marc Herbert and Mick Picker, Furner spoke glowingly of McCrone’s poise since being handed his opportunity in Round 2.<br><br>“It’s a tough ask for a young kid,” Furner said. “He is under pressure just by playing in that position, let alone being in competition with other halves in the club and being off contract.<br><br>“But we spoke about it during the week and I think he would have enjoyed that [performance against the Eels].”<br><br>This latest opportunity hasn’t come easily, however.<br><br>A Canberra junior who was born and raised in Temora – the same town where Trent Barrett first plied his trade – McCrone actually left the Raiders three years ago for a brief stint in Penrith because he didn’t think his time would ever come.<br><br>“I was about fourth or fifth in line at Canberra – and Craig Gower was at the back end of his career at Penrith – so I saw it as an opportunity,” he explained of his 12 months in Sydney in 2008.<br><br>“But I didn’t really enjoy living in Penrith. The boys were great but I wanted to get closer to home again. <br><br>“I was a fair way from home and my girlfriend was still in Canberra so I wanted to come back here where I was a lot more comfortable. <br><br>“And as it turned out the door opened again at Canberra so I jumped at the chance to come back.”<br><br>McCrone played nine games last season after debuting in Round 7, but it’s 2010 he has pinpointed as the year to make his mark.<br><br>“I try not to feel too comfortable or I might get a bit complacent, but my combination with Campo is starting to come along well,” he said. “Each week our combination is getting stronger and stronger.<br><br>“Last week was definitely pretty good for us. But there is still a long way to go.<br><br>“There were a few missed tackles and a bit of lazy defence and I was disappointed against the Tigers the week before, so I can’t say I’ve hit a purple patch or anything.”<br><br><b>Late NRL news:</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;The Roosters will debut highly rated back-rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves against Canberra after he passed a fitness test on his injured shoulder yesterday.<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;South Sydney forwards Roy Asotasi and Michael Crocker are both in doubt for Sunday’s clash with Parramatta.<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Keith Lulia has been drafted into the Newcastle squad to replace Wes Naiqama, who injured his back at training during the week.<br>