Rugby League

Canberra Raiders' English recruit Elliott Whitehead primed to realise NRL dream

Elliott Whitehead has revealed a simple phone call from coach Ricky Stuart was the major factor in his decision to reject offers from other NRL clubs and join the Canberra Raiders. 

And ironically, the Raiders have former sacked wild child Todd Carney to thank for helping get the deal over the line. 

Whitehead, a back rower who made his international debut for England in last year's Four Nations, has one game left for Catalans before he begins a two-year deal with the Raiders. 

Keen to finally push forward with his NRL dream, Whitehead wasn't short on potential suitors after scoring 28 tries in two years with the Dragons, establishing himself as one of the Super League's premier forwards. 

A chat with Catalans teammate Carney, who played under Stuart for NSW in 2012, helped make the move a "no brainer".

"There were a few [NRL clubs interested], but no one else rung me and spoke to me like Ricky did," Whitehead said. 

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"He took his time to do that, and sold the club to me. 

"I've been in Catalans for two years and they've probably been my best seasons football-wise. I felt like I didn't want to leave it too late to go over there [Australia]. 

"I spoke to Toddy and he said it'd be a good club for me to go to. He said Ricky's a good coach and I'd learn a lot off him, it was a no-brainer really."

Known for being creative with the ball and a high work-rate, Whitehead has been recruited to add some more flair to the Raiders' edges. 

The successful transition of fellow English international Josh Hodgson at Canberra has helped ease any concerns he had about his move. 

The 26-year-old also picked the brain of Raiders halfback Sam Williams, who played at Catalans last year. 

"The things everyone said about where the club is going and where it's heading I found pretty positive," Whitehead said. 

"A lot more English guys are heading out there now and have done really well, I think a lot more are interested in doing it now if they get an opportunity. 

"When Hodgson played for Hull KR over here he was always their main threat, a tough player with good skills.

"I wasn't surprised [he played so well], I knew what he was capable of doing and I'm glad he's proved that."

Whitehead said Canberra's greater attacking license under Stuart suited his game and will add to an already healthy Raiders back row. 

Queensland and Australia representative Josh Papalii, reigning Mal Meninga medallist Sia Soliola and two-time player of the year Shaun Fensom are ahead of him, but Whitehead is relishing the challenge. 

"I don't expect to come there and get my spot straight away," he said. 

"I like quality players around me, it helps me get the best out of myself and I need to go to training every day and prove I'm worthy of a spot. 

"They've got some great players like Blake Austin and Josh Papalii, they're a young squad who are going to develop.

"I've been watching their games and their attacking approach definitely suits my game and hopefully I can fit straight in when I get there."

Like England, soccer is king in France, and at the age of ten growing up in Bradford, Whitehead ditched the round ball game for rugby league. 

Catalans players enjoy a low profile but Whitehead is looking forward to moving to where rugby league is king. 

"You can walk around France and people don't have a clue who you are," Whitehead said. 

"It'll be different but I'll enjoy every moment of it, and hopefully I can play some good rugby as well. 

"Hopefully I get picked for England again [to play New Zealand] at the end of this year but if not, I'll be heading to Canberra as soon as I can."

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