Canberra coach Ricky Stuart says he couldn’t help but let Sam Williams go to England, believing the NRL halfback deserves to be playing first-grade fulltime.
Williams turned down a one-year offer to stay at the Raiders to take up a deal with Super League outfit Wakefield for 2017.
The 25-year-old only played eight games for the Green Machine this year, but stepped up when they needed him most.
He filled in at No.7 when Aidan Sezer was injured at the start of the season, and replaced Blake Austin at five-eighth at the back-end of the year – including their qualifying final loss to Cronulla.
He is the first Raider to take up an opportunity elsewhere since their dream run to the preliminary finals, with speculation Paul Vaughan and Shaun Fensom might follow suit.
Stuart was resigned to losing Williams, named NSW Cup player of the year, given his position in the pecking order.
“He deserves to go somewhere to play first grade – whether that’s NRL or Super League,” Stuart said on Friday.
“I was very, very privileged and fortunate to have a first-grade player as my back up to Aidan and Blake.
“He did a wonderful job for us in doing that this year and was a big part of our progress in the competition.”
Sezer was sad to see Williams go, but said his move proved how successful the Raiders had been at creating depth.
“That’s what the club’s built over the last few years – the competition for spots and the depth of positions,” he said.
“I guess it shows on the field, the success that was derived from it, this year.
“Hopefully we can push on, keep building a good squad and have great years to come.”
Sezer was in no doubt that the pain of losing to Melbourne in last weekend’s grand final qualifier would spur the side on next season, with his eyes already firmly on getting to the 2017 decider.
“We’re all very disappointed and it’s going to take a long time to get over it, but you can’t really dwell on it,” he said.
“We fell down one step short, hopefully we get to the big one next year.”
The Raiders launched what’s believed to be a world-first competition for members on Friday, offering a $500,000 prize to those who correctly predict how many total points the team score over the 2017 regular season, how many they concede, as well as how many tries for and against.
The club hopes the promotion, backed by Canberra company Austbrokers, will help boost membership from 15,000 to 20,000.