Austin NRL absence ‘blessing in disguise’

The absence of injured NRL star Blake Austin for another week could prove a blessing in disguise for Canberra, according to hooker Josh Hodgson.

Austin had been expected to return from a two-week layoff with a hamstring injury on Saturday against Penrith in Bathurst, but wasn’t named in the Raiders’ side.

Coach Ricky Stuart has chosen to stick with recruit Aidan Sezer and Sam Williams in the halves following their influential role in Saturday’s 60-6 drubbing of the Wests Tigers.

Hodgson said it would be a hard to drop either for this weekend’s game.

“As much as Austo’s a fantastic player, the consistency of Sammy in there this week after a good win last week is probably a blessing in disguise for us,” Hodgson said on Wednesday.

“We had a good squad last week that had a good performance.

“It’s tough to drop anybody when you’ve had a big scoreline like that.”

Veteran Frank-Paul Nauuausala remains on the outer having been dropped for the Tigers game, named as 18th man, with rookie Clay Priest retaining his place on the bench.

Priest made his debut alongside a better-performing forward pack, who were called out by Stuart for their dismal efforts in weeks prior.

Hodgson, who extended his lead in the Dally M Medal count with another three votes at the weekend, credited the front row for his top form.

“When you’ve got big front-rowers that are flat, carrying it hard and punching holes either side of you, I’ve got a chance to jump out of there and it makes my job so much easier,” the Englishman said.

Veteran teammate Shaun Fensom says it is awesome playing alongside the “tough little Pom”, who deserved every credit he gets – even though he doesn’t readily accept it.

“He’s a massively key player for us. Even off the field he’s helping a lot of players out and, on the field, you can see he’s going from strength to strength,” the lock said.

“He gets knocked around a little bit … against Parramatta, he hurt his knee and his thumb and he still came back out and played the rest of the game. He’s rated very highly in my books.”

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