Miracle man Austin no certainty to return to Canberra's starting side
Blake Austin may have been the hero of Canberra's remarkable 32-28 win over the Bulldogs but the enigmatic playmaker is no certainty to return to Ricky Stuart's starting side for the round 18 clash with North Queensland.
Austin was benched by Stuart for the Belmore game and was introduced into the game with just 15 minutes remaining and the Raiders trailing 28-14.
The enigmatic playmaker then turned miracle worker for the Raiders, scoring a try in the 75th minute and setting up the match-winner for Joey Leilua in the 79th minute.
In between his own four-pointer and laying on Leilua's match-winner, Austin also made a break down the grandstand touchline, which eventually led to Joseph Tapine's 77th minute try.
His burst of brilliance included seven runs for 118 metres and three line breaks, alongside his try.
Despite Austin's heroics, the fitness of Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana might hold the key to whether he can force his way back into the top 17.
Stuart must now ponder the health of his troops before deciding if Austin earns a recall and the first priority is to check on stand-in fullback Brad Abbey, who was taken from the field on a stretcher late in the game after suffering a severe concussion. Then there is Rapana's hamstring.
"It will be interesting to see how young Brad is because that was a pretty bad HIA... And Rappa is a chance to be back next week," Stuart said.
"So if he is back I might put him to the wing and Nick Cotric to fullback. That leaves the decision of either Blake goes back [into No.6] or he sits on the bench and he does the same job again.
"I need to see how Jordy [Rapana] is – he might need one more week. I'll know more on Wednesday or Thursday."
But Stuart and captain Jarrod Croker, who reached 150 points on Saturday night from his try and four goals, were full of praise for Austin.
"After last week's game [26-22 loss to Broncos] I felt for Blake because he's had a tough week," Stuart said. "He certainly added a bit of vibe and feel to the team, some spark that we lacked all game.
"I feel really good for Blake right now. He won that for us... coming on and giving us that extra spark and BJ [Leilua] scoring that try in the right corner."
Croker said he sought out Austin in the dressing room at half-time, after he'd spent all 40 minutes wrapped up in his coat on the bench.
"I actually spoke to him at half-time, when he hadn't been on, about controlling his energy as I knew he'd be like a frog in a sock," Croker said. "But when he did come on we needed him not to be controlled but to go out there and lift us.
"When Brad got injured there Austo was the one buzzing around telling us, 'There's still time'. I didn't think we had time but he was right."
Stuart was asked what message he gave to Austin before he sent him on in the 65th minute.
"I told him to get a couple of tries and get BJ to score the third one," Stuart said with a smile.
"I don't need to.... Blake was disappointed where he was going to be in the 17 but he was certainly ready to play when he got the opportunity."
While relieved to come away with a win after so many narrow losses in 2018 Stuart admitted the Bulldogs should have won and described his own side as "pathetic".
"We were trying to take short-cuts tonight. We didn't do anything to earn the right to play footy at them. We were poor and undisciplined," he said.