Raiders set to unleash rookie half
Highly rated rookie Raiders playmaker Mitch Cornish looks set for an early season debut at halfback for the Green Machine, with regular 2013 No.7 Josh McCrone purely focusing on the hooking role.
Raiders skipper Terry Campese told NRL.com that 2014 would be the year fans would "definitely see" the Junior Kangaroos captain and NSW under-20s representative enter the NRL arena.
Campese was quick to point out the Goulburn product would have earned his NRL debut in late 2013 were it not for issues with the second-tier salary cap.
Campese said the halves combination had been a heavy focus of the pre-season, with Cornish's Junior Kangaroos teammate Jack Ahearn (who can play fullback or half) featuring, while Josh McCrone said the versatile Jack Wighton would also throw his hat into the ring as a halves option.
"This is a time where you try everything, it comes down to the coaching staff what their thoughts are for next week's trial," Campese said.
"We've been playing a lot of halves actually, as you said there's a lot of competition out there, young Jack Ahearn as well - the competition's definitely heating up, there will always be young guys coming through and pushing you to keep it up."
Campese described Cornish as a "natural ball player".
"He's got good eyes on him, he knows what plays to do at certain times, he's got a good kicking game as well. He was close last year except for that [second] tier salary cap. This year will definitely be a year you see young Mitch running round."
McCrone said his focus had been on nailing down the hooker spot. Although Shaun Berrigan has retired, 2013 hookers Glen Buttriss and Matt McIlwrick are still at the club, which has also recruited Kurt Baptiste from the Broncos and has youngster Mitchell Cronin who can also play there.
"I've basically done the full pre-season at hooker," McCrone said.
"We've gone in with the theory I'll give hooker a good crack, I've done the pre-season there, if it doesn't work out I can always go back to the halves if that's what's best. But at the moment hooker's going really well. I haven't played a game yet so we'll find out after the trials I suppose but yeah, it's exciting."
McCrone said a longer-term goal would be to become an 80-minute hooker but that is something that takes a couple of pre-seasons of work - but the current goal was to nail down the starting hooker role.
"We've bought Kurt Baptiste and Mitch Cronin played really well for Mounties last year, I'm sure he'll get a crack at some stage this year. The depth with juniors coming through and the quality of players they've brought in to top up that junior base we've got has been pretty impressive so there's plenty of competition [at hooker]," he said.
Cornish revealed his priority for 2013 was to make his NRL debut and set a platform from there. He acknowledged there was plenty of competition for spots, which he welcomed as something that would help the games of every player vying for positions.
"The competition's good, it always keeps you on your toes and working hard so it can only benefit all our games for the future," he said.
"I need to step my game up if I want to be the number one half here. I don't mind having that competition because as soon as you get comfortable and think you're safe your game can drop off a bit. You need someone to keep you on your toes, I think that's healthier."
Cornish played a handful of games for Mounties in the NSW Cup last year, which he described as a valuable experience, as is the opportunity to train alongside the likes of Campese.
"Campo is one of the best halves going round on his day, he's always teaching us something, he's been unreal to be around," he said.
Cornish also said he would look to vary his playing style more in 2014.
"When I first came through it was all about the running and doing the organising, then for some reason got a bit lazy, my running game got a bit lazy, and I was trying to organise and kick more. But I'm going to have more focus on running and taking the line on this year so that will be a big focus this year."