Stuart to wait and see on Austin’s fitness

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart says the fate of his two star playmakers is out of his hands, but he’s got his fingers crossed both will feature in Saturday’s NRL semi-final.

Stuart expects to know by Thursday whether five-eighth Blake Austin will be fit for the do-or-die clash with Penrith at GIO Stadium, while the wait will be a little longer for hooker Josh Hodgson.

Austin had his first full training session on Wednesday night since breaking his left hand and undergoing surgery.

The exciting No.6 has been confident all week that he will be ready to play this weekend, but Stuart is a bit more cautious.

“It’s going to be how he pulls up over the next 24 hours that will probably make the decision for us,” Stuart said.

Hodgson didn’t train with the squad on Wednesday night, with Stuart agreeing with his rake’s assessment on Tuesday that his chances of playing were “slim”.

The rake suffered ligament damage to his ankle during Saturday’s qualifying final on Saturday night.

“He’s improving, slowly,” he said.

“We’ve all got our fingers crossed that hopefully he’ll play.

“I’ll take whatever (risk) I believe is fair to the team.”

Stuart said not having either or both would be a massive blow for the Raiders, who are chasing their first preliminary final berth in the NRL era.

They finished the regular season with 10 wins on the trot, but fell to Cronulla 16-14 on Saturday at home to force them into a sudden death showdown with the in-form Panthers.

The club played just two night games in their winning streak, giving Stuart reason to hold a session under lights on Wednesday to get a feel of the potentially dewy conditions expected this weekend.

The former champion halfback said his men have been quick to get over the disappointment of losing to the Sharks and are ready to make the most of their second chance.

“There’s been a huge cultural shift here over the last 10 weeks in the club,” he said.

“Getting close used to be good enough, where now we expect to win.

“It’s a massive culture shift for the club and if I can take anything out of this season, that’s it.”

Around 20,000 tickets have been sold for the match, but Stuart is tipping a bumper crowd of around 25,000.

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