Ricky fires up as Raiders’ title hopes condemned

Canberra’s premiership hopes are gone for this season after a suspected ACL tear for gun hooker Josh Hodgson, NRL great Johnathan Thurston says.

The Raiders were beaten 20-14 to Melbourne Storm on Saturday night, but Hodgson’s injury was the true loss. He will miss the rest of the season if a torn ACL is confirmed by scans.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart cut a defiant figure post-match but Thurston can’t see the Raiders making another grand final run without Hodgson.

Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson receives treatment after going down with a suspected ACL injury. (Getty)

“No – he’s as important as Cameron Smith is to Melbourne,” Thurston told TODAY on Sunday.

“So with him on the sidelines now with that suspected ACL injury, I don’t see them making the grand final like they did last year.

“He’s so crucial through that middle third [of the field], in attack he’s the link there as well when they’re going from sideline to sideline.

“He does a lot of work defensively as well, he’s got a great kicking game and a few weeks ago, he was on par with Cameron Smith; Sterlo (Peter Sterling) came out and said that he’s probably playing better football than Cameron Smith.

“He is to crucial to their team and with him on the sidelines now for an extended period, more likely the season, I can’t see them going all the way.”

Brad Fittler added on The Sunday Footy Show: “How many teams win a grand final without their best player?”

But Stuart wasn’t copping the doomsday verdict when quizzed by reporters on Saturday night.

“I don’t give a s–t what other people think,” Stuart said.

“We won’t get out heads down, I promise you. We won’t get our heads down.

“After that effort tonight, with losing one of our key players … if I lost every other game of the season and I had the same effort we had tonight, I’m a happy coach.

“That’s all I ask, that you just keep turning up and give me that effort [like] tonight.”

Raiders v Storm Round 9: Presser – Ricky Stuart

Tom Starling, a 22-year-old back-up hooker with just four NRL games to his credit, will be counted on to ease the burden of Hodgson’s absence; as will bench utility Siliva Havili.

Stuart is in the midst of an extreme injury toll, including John Bateman, Corey Horsburgh, Sia Soliola, Emre Guler and now Hodgson. He said he had never endured such a damaging period.

“I haven’t had one, but I just asked the boys after the game just to keep turning up with that same attitude and desire of their competitiveness,” he said. “They competed at everything tonight.”

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