Sam Williams of the Raiders. Photo: Getty Images
Raiders recruitment manager David Hamilton has warned opponents to target Sam Williams at their peril, declaring the rookie halfback is now far better prepared for the defensive rigours of the NRL.
Williams played 18 matches in his debut season last year, and will begin another lengthy stint deputising for the injured Terry Campese against Cronulla on Sunday.
The 21-year-old missed 67 tackles last year at an average of 3.7 per game, higher than any other Raiders player.
But Hamilton, who coached Williams at Toyota Cup level, insisted the halfback had markedly improved his defence playing against men for Mounties in the NSW Cup this season.
Last year, the diminutive Williams was heavily targeted by wide-running forwards after being forced to make the step up from the under-20 competition earlier than expected.
Williams will defend on Canberra's left side, which has already leaked a number of tries this year.
The Sharks will undoubtedly test Williams, Jarrod Croker, Bronson Harrison and Jack Wighton, but Hamilton declared Williams was up to the task.
''Watching Mounties he's really improved his defence, I've been surprised,'' Hamilton said. ''He's lost a bit of that puppy fat and is starting to get a body on him. He gets some traffic down there [in NSW Cup], don't worry about that, and his defence has been pretty strong.''
While Williams has benefited from an extra year in the gym, Hamilton said his tackling technique was also much improved.
''He's sticking his tackles when he's hitting the big guys, before he'd be getting run over the top of,'' Hamilton said.
''His contact's better, and as I said his body's changed. That will be a real confidence boost for him.''
Williams produced a man-of-the-match performance in his NRL debut against Cronulla in round one last year.
The Cooma product boasted the element of surprise then, but the Sharks will now have a much better idea of what he is capable of.
However, Hamilton is convinced Williams will avoid 'second-year syndrome'.
''He's a real level-headed kid, he's prepared for what he's in for now,'' Hamilton said. ''He was probably more targeting this year to break in and debut [in the NRL], but to do it last year is a credit to him. He played some good footy.''
Williams expects to be targeted in defence, as he was last year, and said tackling technique had been his biggest focus in the pre-season.
''[Assistant Raiders coach] Justin Morgan has come into the coaching group this year and I've spoken to him about different defensive techniques and bringing blokes to the ground. If the technique's right, size shouldn't matter,'' he said.