As he prepares to return to Canberra, New Zealand Warriors coach Matt Elliott has revealed his regret at walking out on the Raiders after the 2006 NRL season.
Elliott is head of a new coaching staff at the Warriors this season with a strong Raiders influence, including assistant Andrew McFadden who Elliott poached from Canberra at the end of last year. As he prepares to try and lead the Warriors to their first win at Canberra Stadium since 1997, Elliott told Fairfax Media:
■ He often questions his decision to leave Canberra for Penrith in 2006;
■ He is preparing for returning Raiders skipper Terry Campese to be at his best and to start in his comeback match on Saturday night and;
■ McFadden is a future head coach who has been instrumental in the game plan to break down the Raiders.
Elliott coached at the Raiders from 2001 until 2006, announcing that February he was rejecting the offer of a one-year contract extension from Canberra to move to Penrith in 2007.
That relationship with the Panthers soured when Elliott was squeezed out by a new administration led by Phil Gould, and forced to quit midway through the 2011 season. Elliott then spent a year as an assistant to Brian Smith at the Roosters last year, before taking over at the Warriors.
Asked if there was an element of regret leaving the Raiders, Elliott said: ''Yeah, at the time it was. I'll be frank with you, my memories of Canberra were really, really positive … I often think whether I made the right decision going or staying. I can't say I share those fond thoughts about other organisations I've worked for.''
Elliott has been put under immediate pressure in New Zealand, the Warriors last on the ladder with a 1-4 start to the season.
That pressure is compounded by a poor record at Canberra Stadium. The Raiders are undefeated from two starts at home this season, while the Warriors, who arrive in Canberra on Thursday, have lost their last eight matches at Canberra Stadium dating back to 1997.
Elliott is also preparing for the Raiders to be buoyed by the return of Campese from a 12-month knee injury.
Elliott, who was Canberra coach when Campese made his NRL debut in 2004, said he was preparing for the former Australian five-eighth to be at his best.
''It's safest to do that,'' Elliott said. ''If we start saying he's going to be half-pie at his best, I think we're setting ourselves up for a pretty big fall. He's certainly been talked about in our preparation.
''I admired when he was playing his best football and I really thought that he was starting to realise his potential and was going to be a long-term rep player. I'd love to see him get back to that level again.
''I'm delighted for him, I just hope he gets a free run for the rest of his career.''
While Campese has been named on an extended Raiders bench, Elliott said he wouldn't be surprised to see Campese start. Campese has played only eight of Canberra's past 55 matches.
''There could be a theory that they might not get 80 minutes out of Campo so they may as well find out how much he can give them from the start rather than making him guess,'' Elliott said.
''You can protect him from the helter skelter at the beginning of the game but blokes who are looking to come back from injury and haven't played in a while, they get nervous on the bench and they burn a lot of energy.''
Elliott's coaching staff includes former Raiders premiership player Ruben Wiki and strength and conditioning coach Carl Jennings. But McFadden could be a key weapon for the Warriors this week.
McFadden controversially sought a release from the Raiders at the end of last season to join the Warriors and has been instrumental in their preparation for this game.
''His awareness of the [Raiders] players' capabilities has been helpful, making sure we don't overlook anyone,'' Elliott said.
''He's outstanding, he's taken a heap of pressure off me … he's head coach material.
''He obviously started his coaching in Canberra when I was there, but the way he's matured, the qualities he brings and his relationship with the players is top-level stuff.''