Rugby league immortal Andrew Johns has warned against shifting any of Canberra's three chief playmakers to other positions next season, instead challenging Terry Campese, Josh McCrone and Sam Williams to battle for the two starting spots in the halves.
Williams, in particular, is on the hitlist of rival NRL clubs, St George Illawarra and Gold Coast. The 21-year-old half-back comes off contract at the end of 2013.
While Williams said yesterday his priority was to stay at the Raiders, the club has not signalled any intention to open negotiations for an extension until the start next season. It has shut down the possibility of releasing him from his contract early.
Williams was a standout for the Raiders in this year's semi-finals, but could potentially be squeezed out of the starting team by the return of skipper Campese.
It has been suggested that Campese could shift to the back-row or McCrone could move to hooker to accommodate all three playmakers, but Johns said he would avoid positional changes.
Johns backed Campese to return to his best form and give the Raiders the X-factor to be a top-four contender, while he rates McCrone a potential NSW Origin representative and best suited to the halves.
''Campo's got too much class for that, you'd dull his brilliance if you played him in the back-row,'' Johns said at Campese's annual golf day for cancer charity CanTeen. ''I think if he's fit you have to play him at five-eighth. People of that size and skill don't come along all the time.
''[When Campese returns] they've got that X-factor. He'll get back to that form that got him selected for Australia, I know he will, it's just going to take a bit of time.
''They've got Campo who's an international player and they've got Josh McCrone who, I think, has the potential to play origin football, so they've got the depth there. It's all up to Sam now.''
Johns has previously worked with Williams and the Raiders halves as a consultant coach. Impressed by Williams' end-of-season form, he wasn't surprised that he was in demand.
''They're as rare as hen's teeth at the moment, good half-backs,'' Johns said. ''He's got all the class, he just needs to keep working hard.
''I saw him play Junior [Australian] Kangaroos and he was one of the best players on the field. You can see it in him. He just needs a bit of time to mature physically, he's not as big as other guys. The back half of the year would have done him wonders. Another big off-season and it's up and up.''
As of last Thursday , Williams and all off-contract players in the NRL were free to open negotiations with rival clubs.
But Williams said he had no intention of running from internal competition at Canberra.
''My first priority is staying at the Raiders,'' Williams said.
''Most clubs that are successful have a lot of depth and I think that's a big bonus we've got at the Raiders now. We've got a lot of depth and in key positions.
''You don't go through seasons without people getting injured and you need to make sure you're winning games when key players are injured. I'm really excited about trying to earn a spot in the team … I am hoping I can earn the number seven.''