One round in and Canberra coach Ricky Stuart is already facing a backline reshuffle, with star halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer to miss at least a month of NRL action.
The Raiders on Monday confirmed the pair will be sidelined for between four to six weeks with injuries suffered in Saturday’s brutal win at home over Penrith.
Halfback Sezer is to have surgery this week to repair a fractured eye socket, which he sustained while scoring two tries on debut in the 30-22 victory.
Dally M five-eighth of the year Austin will be spared the knife but faces intense rehabilitation on a medial ligament strain to his right knee.
Austin, like Sezer, spent the entire off-season recovering from shoulder surgery late last year, but starred on return with a try, try assist and a monster 70m dropout at GIO Stadium.
The playmaking duo had been touted as one of the league’s best this season, with the potential to guide the Raiders to their first finals series since 2012.
“It’s very disappointing,” winger Jordan Rapana said.
“I guess the positive to that is we’ve got a lot of depth there, so I’m sure Stick (Stuart) will have no trouble in playing our back-up halves.”
Sam Williams is likely to slide in at halfback for this Saturday’s clash with the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium after recovering from a virus he picked up on the eve of the Panthers’ game.
Stuart has a number of options to play alongside him at No.6, with fullback Jack Wighton and boom rookie Lachlan Croker both contenders.
If Wighton does move into the halves, Rapana or Sisa Waqa are frontrunners for the No.1 jumper.
“I guess it’s always an option with both halves being injured, so if Ricky says it I’ll try and take it on,” added the 23-year-old, who’s played almost every position in the backline in 68 NRL games.
“(Croker) played great in the 20s and he’s been a great player for a couple of years. He had a few bad injuries but he’s matured and he’ll also be able to take the role on if we do need him.
“He takes the leader role really well.”
He said Williams, who successfully paired with Austin in the halves for much of 2015, was a good organiser and would take a lot of pressure off whomever his playing partner is.
“He’s an amazing halfback,” added Rapana.
“I’ve trained and played alongside him and he’ll take it with both hands no doubt.”