SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: Raiders Coach, Ricky Stuart speaks during the NRL Grand Final Press Conference at the Westin Hotel on October 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Canberra Raiders head coach Ricky Stuart has made the big call to drop Jarrod Croker to reserve grade ahead of Round 1.

Despite something of a backline shortage at the Raiders, brought on by a season-ending injury to Harley Smith-Shields, suspension to Jordan Rapana, and the departure of Bailey Simonsson to the Parramatta Eels, Croker will be the backline player to miss out.

The veteran, who is just a handful of games away from becoming a 300-game player for the men in green and white, will be forced to wait a little longer to make his return from stem cell surgery.

Despite making it through the trials unscathed, Stuart told The Daily Telegraph on Monday afternoon that Croker would play reserve grade.

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“Jarrod is doing a lot more than he could do at training last year after the stem cell surgery,” Stuart said.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 28: Jarrod Croker of the Raiders looks on during the round eight NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Canberra Raiders at 1300SMILES Stadium on April 28, 2018 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“I am really happy that he is progressing well. At this stage we would just like to give him a bit more time.”

It means the backline for the Raiders is likely to feature Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Xavier Savage, Nick Cotric, Matthew Timoko and Sebastian Kris.

While it was thought Savage was a strong chance to play at fullback, it almost certainly means he will take a spot on the wing with Cotric, allowing Nicoll-Klokstad to play at fullback, with Timoko and Kris both filling out as specialist centres after some impressive performances last year.

The Raiders backline will also be down on experience and stability, with Jamal Fogarty ruled out for up to four months with a knee injury, to be replaced by debutant Brad Schneider.

The Raiders open their season against the Cronulla Sharks in the nation's capital on Friday evening, while the New South Wales Cup team make the trip to Sydney on Saturday to play the Newtown Jets at Henson Park.

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