Mark McLinden doubtful starter

In-form Fone Zone Canberra Raiders half Mark McLinden could be ruled out of tomorrow's crunch match against the Penrith Panthers, after coming down with the flu this week.

McLinden is now in slight doubt for the match and will be given until match time to prove his fitness, with coach Matthew Elliott placing rookie half Todd Carney on stand-by.

The Raiders will be aiming for their 4th straight victory this weekend and a real shot at the top 4, while the Panthers, now at full strength, will be out to erase the memories of a horror fortnight and bring up a win on home soil.

The Panthers have been boosted this week by the early return of injured captain Craig Gower, but a cloud over his fitness still remains after he broke down at a Penrith training session a fortnight ago, whilst recovering from a bad knee injury he suffered during NSW's 9-8 victory back in State of Origin 1.

Meanwhile the Fone Zone Canberra Raiders have today announced the re-signing of five of their outstanding young prospects in an extraordinary day for player retention.

Newly-blooded first-graders Nathan Smith, Alan Rothery and Kris Kahler have each pledged allegiance to the Club, and were joined by up-and-comers Steve Franciscus and Beau Mundine in signing new deals today.

Two-try hero and star of the Raiders 32-28 victory over the Cowboys at Canberra Stadium last Saturday night, Nathan Smith, has signed on with the Green Machine for a further two years, as have fellow rookie first-graders Alan Rothery and Kris Kahler.

Two of the stars of the Raiders fourth-placed Premier League team, centres-pairing Steve Franciscus and Beau Mundine have also taken up contract extensions, with Mundine adding on a further two seasons and Franciscus signing on for one more year.

?All of these guys have come a long way as players since the start of the season and each of them are going to get some opportunities to play first grade in the next year or so,? explained Raiders head coach Matthew Elliott.

The three who have had a taste (of first grade) are certainly in the mix to cement a more permanent position for themselves,? he said.

21-year-old Queensland duo Alan Rothery and Kris Kahler joined the Raiders last season from Broncos? feeder Club Toowoomba, but have waited until recently to get their opportunity in first grade.

Kahler received his maiden Raiders first grade jumper at Campbelltown in a loss to the Tigers in May, while Rothery stepped out for his debut against former Club Brisbane a week prior at Canberra Stadium.

?I struggled a bit (for form) early and waited a while to get an opportunity, but it was good to get the chance to play some first grade this season,? said Kahler.

?Hopefully I?ll get a few more games (this year) and some more games next year and look to build on that,? he said.

Rothery, who was again named in the Raiders first grade line-up for this weekend?s clash with defending premiers Penrith, said that his aim for the new season is to clinch a permanent first grade jumper.

?I?m really looking forward to getting a full pre-season preparation under my belt after missing out last year (through a shoulder injury),? he said.

?There is a big opportunity for me to step up and cement a first grade spot with some senior players leaving the Club.?

23-year-old utility Beau Mundine is yet to get his chance to play in the top grade in Canberra, but has excited Raiders coaching staff with his skill and versatility since arriving from Souths earlier this season.

?I?m very excited about Beau,? quipped Coach Matt Elliott.

?He?s going to have a big season next year after he completes a full pre-season of training and gets some coaching (during that period).?

?He?s a big strong kid who can play in the backs or forwards and his attitude and approach to the game is spot on,? he added.

Papua New Guinean World Sevens star Steve Franciscus has made an immediate impact in the Raiders Premeir League team after arriving from Queensland Cup team Wests Panthers this season.

The former Queensland Under 19?s representative has dazzled Raiders crowds with his flashy footwork and blinding speed and is set to continue his rise with the Raiders in 2005.

?I?ve really learned a lot from the coaches, and being in such a good Premier League team with so many good players has helped me develop my game,? he said.

?I?m not expecting anything to happen overnight, but I?ll just keep developing my game and hopefully (I) will get the chance to make the step up.?

Fact File:

Nathan Smith

DOB: 21/4/83 Age: 21

Acquired from: Local junior

Junior Club: Valley Dragons (ACT)

FG debut: Raiders v Cowboys, Canberra Stadium (Rnd 18) 2004

FG games: 1 (2 tries, 8 points)

Alan Rothery

DOB: 19/2/83 Age: 21

Acquired from: Toowoomba Clydesdales (Brisbane) 2003

Junior Club: Norths (Rockhampton)

FG debut: Raiders v Broncos, Canberra Stadium (Rnd 9) 2004

FG games: 9 (0 points)

Kris Kahler

DOB: 13/2/83 Age: 21

Acquired from: Brisbane Broncos 2003

Junior Club: Gympie (QLD)

FG debut: Brisbane v Wests Tigers, Campbelltown (Rnd 12) 2002

Raiders FG debut: Raiders v Wests Tigers, Campbelltown (Rnd 10) 2004

FG games: 5 (0 points), 4 for Raiders

Steve Franciscus

DOB: 21/8/82 Age: 21

Acquired from: Wests Panthers (QLD Cup)

Junior Clubs: Deception Bay Raiders, Redcliffe Dolphins (QLD)

FG games: 0

Achievements: QLD Under 19?s 2002

PNG World Sevens team 2004

Beau Mundine

DOB: 28/12/80 Age: 23

Acquired from: South Sydney 2004

Junior Club: Souths

FG Debut: Souths v Wests Tigers, Leichardt Oval (Round 18) 2002

FG games: 2 (0 points), Yet to appear in first grade for Canberra.