Canberra Raiders half Sam Williams to bring 'Leipana' into line in NRL return
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Canberra Raiders half Sam Williams to bring 'Leipana' into line in NRL return

They're already the NRL's most destructive right-edge duo, now Canberra Raiders halfback Sam Williams is the general who'll bring "Leipana" into line.

Williams has been given the halfback duties for their round-one opener away to the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday, with Aidan Sezer playing five-eighth and Blake Austin named on the bench as a utility.

Raiders halfback Sam Williams is the "general" set to take control of Leipana.

Raiders halfback Sam Williams is the "general" set to take control of Leipana.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

The Raiders have a good recent record on the Gold Coast, winning three of their last four - including last year's 42-16 victory.

Raiders winger Jordan Rapana (21 tries) and centre Joey Leilua (10) combined for 31 four-pointers last season, and have become known as the electric and inseparable duo Leipana.

But the Green Machine allowed 26 of their 84 tries conceded last season down their right edge.

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Rapana said it had been a focus for the duo to add a Green defensive wall to their lightning attack as the Raiders look to bounce back into the NRL top eight this year.

With Williams to join them on the right side of the defensive line, Rapana predicted the 26-year-old's organisational abilities would help give them structure.

Rapana said both himself and Leilua had set personal bests in their fitness work during the pre-season, which had him confident the pair would again fire for the Green Machine.

He said cutting lapses out of their game was the key to adding some defensive rigidity without losing their attacking flair.

"[Williams] gives good ball and we know he's a real good organiser. Me and Joey can be a bit all over the show sometimes on the field so it's probably better he's on our side," Rapana said.

"We've had a massive focus this year on wrestling and defence, especially on our right edge. It's more a mental awareness of not lapsing throughout the game.

"We have a focus of trying to get as many carries and as many runs as we can, but with that we need to also have a focus on making sure we make our one-on-one tackles and defend really well."

Canberra captain Jarrod Croker said the halves had taken ownership of the side in Josh Hodgson's absence (knee), which would help Raiders debutant Siliva Havili settle in to the hooking duties.

Croker felt Williams' organisational skills would benefit the entire Green Machine, not just the right edge.

The Raiders were criticised for their game management during their unsuccessful 2017 campaign.

"He's a little bit of a general in there. He gets in there and barks at all the big boys like a little greyhound," Croker said.

"He gets them where they need to be on the field and that helps the rest of the side."

Raiders second-rower Joe Tapine planned to run out the full 80 minutes as he looks to switch from the middle to the right edge.

He'll be alongside not only Williams, but Leipana as well, and was also expecting to benefit from the No.7's "talk".

Tapine has turned to the man who's second-row spot he's taken for advice in making the switch.

England international Elliott Whitehead made a stunning move to lock towards the end of last season and will start this campaign in the No.13.

"I'm looking forward to playing with him. BJ and Raps, they pull some magic out of the hat and Sammy's a good organiser so it's good for me with his talk. I'm looking forward to playing alongside those boys," Tapine said.

The trip to the Gold Coast will be Ricky Stuart's 100th NRL game in charge of his beloved Raiders, having taken the reins going into 2014.

After the Titans clash, Stuart will be just five games short of 350 as an NRL coach. It will also be Josh Papalii's 150th and Luke Bateman 50th games.

NRL ROUND ONE

Sunday: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans at the Gold Coast, 6.30pm. Live on Fox Sports.

Raiders squad: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Aidan Sezer, 7. Sam Williams, 8. Junior Paulo, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Joe Tapine, 13. Elliott Whitehead. Bench from: 14. Blake Austin, 15. Luke Bateman , 16. Dunamis Lui, 17. Sia Soliola, 18. Charlie Gubb, 19. Brad Abbey, 20. Royce Hunt, 21. Craig Garvey.

Titans squad: 1. Michael Gordon, 2. Anthony Don, 3. Dale Copley, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 5. Phillip Sami, 6. Kane Elgey, 7. Ashley Taylor, 8. Jai Arrow, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Leilani Latu, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Ryan James (c), 13. Bryce Cartwright. Bench from: 14. Mitch Rein, 15. Max King, 16. Will Matthews, 17. Morgan Boyle, 18. Joe Greenwood, 19. Jai Whitbread, 20. Tyronne Roberts Davis, 21. Aj Brimson.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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