15th April 2021, 09:00 | nrl
Wales fullback Caleb Aekins is set to add to the heavy British influence in the Canberra Raiders team when he makes his first NRL appearance for the Green Machine in Saturday’s clash with Parramatta at GIO Stadium.
Aekins, who played 12 NRL matches for Penrith before moving to Canberra this season, has been a member of the Wales squad since 2017 but missed the World Cup due to injury.
The 23-year-old, who is born in New Zealand but qualifies for the Dragons through Welsh grandparents, is expected to be Wales coach John Kear’s first choice for the No.1 jersey at the end-of-season World Cup in England.
He has been called into the Raiders team to face the Eels this weekend after Kiwis star Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad suffered a neck injury in last Friday’s 30-10 loss to Penrith, the undefeated NRL competition leaders.
Canberra’s English stars Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead, George Williams and Ryan Sutton backed Aekins to replace Nicoll-Klokstad when asked by Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.
"Stick was obviously thinking of a few options and tossed up a few different ideas to me and the other senior boys about what we were thinking and what's his ideas, and as soon as he mentioned Caleb we were all on board," Hodgson said.
"He's played NRL before, he's really impressed us this pre-season and just how he conducts himself and how safe he is at the back in training and in games in the NSW Cup.
"I'm really looking forward to him making his debut for the club. He just gives you that confidence.
“That's what you need when you're in your defensive line and in those moments in a game, you just need to be confident that the bloke behind you is just going to keep returning it back for you and putting people in the right spots.”
Both teams are coming off last round defeats, with St George Illawarra upsetting Parramatta 26-12 to leapfrog the Eels into the top four.
The round six action begins with Penrith travelling to Brisbane, whose coach Kevin Walters has dropped Samoan playmaker Anthony Milford in a bid to kick start the Broncos season.
Newcastle host Cronulla on Friday, with former Celtic Crusaders centre Josh Hannay taking charge of the Sharks for the first time following the dramatic sacking of John Morris this week.
Former Hull FC second-rower Craig Fitzgibbon has been appointed Cronulla coach for next season and the long serving Sydney Roosters assistant is trying to persuade Cameron Ciraldo to leave the Panthers and join him.
Fitzgibbon’s immediate focus is helping Trent Robinson plot the downfall of the Storm on Friday night, with Melbourne’s big forwards expected to target Leeds-born teenage halfback Sam Walker.
The Roosters rookie, whose father Ben played for the Rhinos in 2002, came through a searching test from the Sharks last week to score a try and lay on three others to snatch a 26-18 comeback win.
Tom Trbojevic returns for Manly in Saturday’s opening match against Gold Coast, before Benji Marshall takes on his former Wests Tigers team-mates for the first time in South Sydney colours.
On Sunday, the Dragons will be looking for their fifth consecutive win against the injury-hit Warriors, who have lost Tonga enforcer Addin Fonua-Blake for four months with a leg injury.
The round of matches concludes on Sunday when Trent Barrett’s Canterbury Bulldogs travel to North Queensland in search of their first win of the season against the Cowboys.
NRL Senior Reporter Brad Walter