Rugby League


NRL: Canberra Raiders recruit Elliott Whitehead puts in hard yards before Christmas break

Before he kicks back with pudding and Christmas ham in Britain, Canberra Raiders recruit Elliott Whitehead faces a torrid two weeks on the track.

The English international arrived in Canberra at the end of last week ready to test himself in the toughest rugby league competition in the world.

Whitehead arrives with wonderful credentials having become one of the premier second-rowers in the Super League with the Catalans Dragons.

The 26-year-old also established himself on the international stage with some strong performances for England in the three-Test series against New Zealand at the end of last season.

Whitehead crossed for two tries as England won the third Test 20-14 in November 15 to secure a thrilling 2-1 series win.

Having been given the past four weeks off, Whitehead struck up a deal with Raiders strength and conditioning coach Nigel Ashley-Jones to allow him to return home for the holidays.


Whitehead will report back to the Raiders on January 6, giving him six weeks to get up to speed ahead of the club's one and only trial game against Newcastle in Orange on February 20.

"I spoke to Nigel about maybe going home for Christmas and he's happy for me to do that as I long as I train hard for these two weeks," Whitehead said.

"It will be good to get those extra few weeks of conditioning in the new year.

"The NRL is that little bit faster so hopefully Nigel can get me adapted to the speed of the game and I'll be all right."

Whitehead received a phone call from Raiders coach Ricky Stuart earlier this year to discuss the possibility of playing in Australia before signing a two-year contract.

He also got an insight into the Raiders from his England teammate Josh Hodgson, ex-Raiders star Todd Carney, who he played with at Catalans, and former outside back Adrian Purtell.

Raiders halfback Sam Williams believes Whitehead will be an "exceptional" recruit for the Raiders having played together in France.

Whitehead said he took a lot out of performing strongly for England after previously coming off the bench.

"It gave me confidence coming over here being able to start all three Test matches against New Zealand," he said.

"Everyone knows the NRL is a little bit better than Super League and the (English) guys want to test themselves against the best opposition week in and week out.

"I feel like I'm a few weeks behind, on Monday was a bit of a shock, my legs are feeling it today."

The Raiders could decide to give Australian fans their first sight of Whitehead at the Auckland Nines from February 6-7.

Whitehead is keen to be involved with the pre-season tournament but said the decision was one for Stuart.

"That's up to Ricky, but hopefully I will," Whitehead said.

"I wouldn't mind going over there and seeing what it's all about.

"At the age of 26, I didn't want to wait any longer and I thought it was the right time to come to the NRL."

The Raiders now boast a quality forward pack with plenty of options.

Kangaroos international Josh Papalii could be shifted to the front row to accommodate Whitehead so he can play alongside last season's Mal Meninga medallist, Sia Soliola.

"I've got to fight for that position and that's going to bring the best out of me," Whitehead said.

"If we're all training to our potential then it's going to bring the best out of all of us.

"Hopefully I will be all right (with the reduced interchange), but we will have to wait and see."