Rugby League


NRL: Canberra Raiders recruit Elliott Whitehead excited about debut against Penrith

English international Elliott Whitehead admits the butterflies will be circling, but the Canberra Raiders newcomer can't wait to get his NRL career started.

The 26-year-old second-rower will be patrolling the right edge when the Raiders open their season at home against the Penrith Panthers on Saturday.

Whitehead earned his spot in the starting side with a strong performance in the Raiders' 34-28 trial game victory against the Newcastle Knights at Orange.

His inclusion has pushed Kangaroos representative Josh Papalii to the left edge and last year's player of the year Sia Soliola to the bench in a sign of the Raiders' increased depth this season.

Like his countryman and Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson, Whitehead isn't your traditional NRL rookie.

He's already played 177 first-grade games in the Super League with the Bradford Bulls and the Catalans Dragons and five Tests for England.


"I'm trying not to think about it at the moment, it's still a few days away and I'll think about it on game day," Whitehead said.

"I will be nervous on game day making my debut in the NRL, but I'm sure after five minutes it will be all gone.

"Hopefully we can get the job done and I can get my first win with the Raiders."

Whitehead got his first look at Canberra Stadium on Monday when the Raiders trained there for the first and only time this week.

They are unable to hold their usual captain's run training session on the ground the day before the game because of the Brumbies' Super Rugby clash with the NSW Waratahs there on Friday night.

Hodgson has given Whitehead an insight into what he can expect compared with what he is used to in the Super League.

"He's said it's a bit quicker around the ruck and I felt like in the trial it was a little bit quicker," Whitehead said.

"I've had a long pre-season and I've felt like I've had a good pre-season.

"I've lost some extra weight that I didn't need, so hopefully that will stand me in good stead."

Whitehead will be part of a new-look right-edge for the Raiders that also features centre Joey Leilua, five-eighth Sam Williams and winger Jordan Rapana.

Williams has been named in the No. 6 jersey and last year's Dally M five-eighth of the year Blake Austin is on the bench in his return from a shoulder operation.

But another surprise is Rapana being rewarded for his strong trial form to get the nod over the more experienced Sisa Waqa.

"We've got great depth and it's obviously headaches for [Raiders coach] Ricky [Stuart] to pick a team," Whitehead said.

"He's gone with [Rapana] this week and [Rapana] knows he has to play well to keep his spot and Sisa will have to push him in training to try and get his spot.

"We all know we have to play well this week to keep our spots and that people are looking over our shoulders to get into the team."

SATURDAY: NRL round one: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 3pm. TV: Live on Fox Sports. Tickets at Ticketek.