McCrone back barking orders at Raiders

It’s been almost a year since he last wore No.7 in the NRL, but Josh McCrone is already comfortably barking orders at his Canberra teammates.

Skipper Jarrod Croker says the 28-year-old has easily slipped back into the side ahead of Sunday’s clash with Penrith at Pepper Stadium, working closely with in-form five-eighth Blake Austin.

McCrone had played 118 NRL games straight until March, when he was dropped to NSW Cup after three appearances at hooker.

But in the absence of injured first-choice half Sam Williams, and after last week’s failed experiment with Jack Wighton, he’s earned a long-awaited recall.

McCrone’s last game at halfback for the Raiders was in round 24, 2014, but Croker is confident he will deliver in what’s looming as a season-defining match – and against a side to whom he was once contracted in 2007.

“Macca will be pumped,” the captain said on Friday.

“He jumped straight back into training and was barking orders as a good halfback does.

“He’s a quality player and he’s got plenty experience there, so the boys have got all the confidence in the world in him.”

Croker, though, isn’t worried about McCrone overplaying his hand in a bid to impress coach Ricky Stuart, nor overawed by the occasion.

“He’ll go in there and just play the role he knows he has to,” he said.

“He’s got a very smart passing and kicking game – but I think the best part of his game is his running game.

“We’ll be better off with his experience.”

Last week’s one-point loss to Cronulla put a dent in Canberra’s hopes of a finals berth, but Croker is adamant it hadn’t shaken their confidence.

The close encounter, he believes, had only made them stronger and ready to face a Panthers outfit reeling from their 42-point thrashing at the hands of Melbourne.

“They were obviously disappointed with their game last weekend; they’re back at home, they’ve had a long turnaround and they’re sitting (in 12th) on 18 points as well,” said Croker.

“So it’s a massive game for both sides and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Whoever wins will keep in touch with the top eight, while the loser is almost certainly out of finals contention.

Strangely, the two teams will again face off in a month’s time in round 25 at GIO Stadium.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that game – hopefully we’re in a bit better position by then,” added Croker.

“We can’t be looking ahead to that one, but it’d be good to put a statement there this weekend.”

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