The Green Machine have turned grinders as makeshift halves pairing Elliott Whitehead and Sam Williams vow to extend Canberra’s surprise unbeaten start to the NRL season on Saturday.
With star duo Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer still sidelined through injury, Whitehead and Williams will again call the shots when the Raiders host the Gold Coast at GIO Stadium.
Williams readily admits there’ll be more rein pulling than razzle dazzle in the absence of their two leading playmakers.
“We probably don’t have that explosiveness without Blake and Aiden there at the moment,” Williams said.
“They can really turn a game on its head in a matter of minutes.
“The style of football I play, I like to grind teams down and try and win it a little bit later.”
And it’s working, with Williams slotting the last-gasp field goal in Canberra’s 21-20 defeat of the Sydney Roosters before guiding the Raiders to a 24-all draw last week on the road in Newcastle.
The Raiders are making no apologies for simplifying their approach, especially given Whitehead, an English Test back-rower, was playing five-eighth for the first time in his career against the Knights.
But the more direct, up-the-middle style will do for now. with Austin (knee) and Sezer (eye socket) not due back for at least another fortnight.
“It’s not the most expansive style of footy at the moment but that’s just the way we’ve got to be,” Williams said.
“We’re going to face a few different challenges throughout the year. It’s a long competition and at the moment Elliot’s doing a really good job at five-eighth.
“Hopefully we can go to another level this weekend and try and put a few more plays on, try to be a little bit more expansive.”
Whitehead said he’d been told by coach Ricky Stuart to stick with his back-rower’s game and let Williams control proceedings.
But he showed great slight of hand to set up two tries against Newcastle, proving himself no mug in the playmaker’s role.
“I knew I’d have the ball in my hands a bit more and I could take my short side, which I like doing and I proved I’m capable of doing that,” Whitehead said.
“So hopefully I can do that again this weekend.”
Stuart wants his side to improve on their effort against Newcastle.
“They’re (the Titans) probably playing better than us at the moment, we’re not playing well but we’re hanging in there, scraping through,” Stuart said.
“We haven’t got a lot of continuity in our attack either.
“We’re probably winning some games on character the moment, but that doesn’t get you through every game. We’ve got to start playing a little bit better quality of football.”
* Canberra is chasing four straight wins at home for the first time since 2013 and also their 200th win at Canberra Stadium in what will be there 309th match there.
* The Titans have been poor on the road since the middle of last season and are currently on a club record losing streak of seven straight away matches.
* Ricky Stuart has won just four of his 11 matches against the Titans and has won just two of his past six against Neil Henry coached sides.
Source: Fox Sports Stats