Rugby League

Sam Williams aiming to keep Blake Austin out of Canberra Raiders starting side

It was the biggest selection surprise of round one but Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart insists picking Sam Williams to start in the halves over Blake Austin was an "easy decision".

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Austin, the reigning Dally M five-eighth of the year, will be eased in off the bench in his return from shoulder surgery against Penrith at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.

Stuart said he conferred with all three halves - Austin, Williams and new recruit Aidan Sezer - before settling on Sezer at halfback and Williams at five-eighth. 

Williams effectively rubber stamped his selection with a strong display in tandem with Sezer in the trial against Newcastle. 

Now the off-contract Cooma product wants to prove his worth as he fights for a new deal. 


"You have a look at the form he [Williams] had in Orange and it was an easy decision, knowing that Sammy was fit and healthy," Stuart said. 

"A part of this was Blake's decision too, it wasn't just all mine. 

Happy as Sammy: Sam Williams has signed a one-year deal to play in England.
Happy as Sammy: Sam Williams has signed a one-year deal to play in England. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"I discuss all these things with our players and I put it out there in discussion with Blake, Sammy and Aidan that this was the best way forward for round one. 

"It's an easier way to monitor his [Austin's] minutes coming back from a long rehab [and] it won't be forever."

Jay Cronan
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart. Photo: Jay Cronan

Austin is breathing down his neck but Williams has vowed to make punting him from first grade as difficult as possible for Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart. 

Former NSW halfback Brett Kimmorley expects Williams, a more traditional half than livewire Austin, to get the Raiders into the contest before shifting to dummy half when Austin comes on.

Jay Cronan
Raiders recruit Aidan Sezer will play his first NRL match for the Canberra club on Saturday. 

It's a golden chance for Williams to impress, who is off contract at the end of the year after his best NRL campaign last season. 

"Austo is the reigning five-eighth of the year so there's no doubt he wants to be back there," Williams said.  

After shoulder surgery in the off-season, Blake Austin, centre, will make his comeback to the NRL from the bench on Saturday.
After shoulder surgery in the off-season, Blake Austin, centre, will make his comeback to the NRL from the bench on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

"I said all along I can only control what I do and the main thing was staying positive. 

"Austo hasn't had any game time yet so it will probably be good for him to ease back into it. 

"The first game of the season is always tough, whether you've had a trial or not. 

"It might help him a bit and hopefully I guess I can play really well and stay there."

After Sezer left Gold Coast for Canberra, the Titans made an enquiry to the Raiders about the possibility of releasing Williams from the final year of his contract. 

Canberra knocked back the request and Williams insisted he was always content to stay at the Raiders and fight for his spot. 

"One of the biggest things about playing rugby league is it can be a very up and down game in terms of playing and not playing," Williams said.

"I like the playing group we've got here, the coaching staff is really good and I'm happy at the club.

"I don't really want to go but I'm off contract this year so I need to prove to the club why I should stay."

Williams doesn't feel his style will change in his first NRL game at five-eighth, but conceded he may have to create more in attack alongside Sezer, a fine game manager. 

"The amount of work we've done at training with all different combinations I don't think it matters, we all feel comfortable with each other," Williams said.

"I don't think I've worn the six [in the NRL] but my thinking or the game plan won't change.

"With Austo it's about trying to create room for him and let his running ability try and take the game away from the opposition.

"With Aidan, it's allowing him to do more of the organising than Austo would traditionally, but it also means I have to take on a bit more responsibility with trying to create a few more things.

"Austo's kicking game is improving as well but Aidan's is certainly a noted finisher of sets and he's got a left boot, and obviously myself having a right boot, the fullback has to guess where it's going to end up."

Kimmorley, a former member of Canberra's coaching staff, believes Williams could deputise for hooker Josh Hodgson either side of half time, with Austin slotting into the halves. 

"I think Hodgson could get 30 minutes out and ten minutes after half-time [come back on], it's like a 30-minute rest," Kimmorley said. 

"Starting the game Sammy can build a great game plan and get them in the contest, that's his strength. 

"Then you allow Blake to come onto the field when they're more fatigued and open the field up."


NRL round one: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 3pm

Tickets available from Ticketek 

TV: Live on Fox Sports 1