Whitehead trims down for NRL pace
Canberra's latest English Test import Elliot Whitehead has shredded five kilograms since heading down under to get in ready for the faster pace of the NRL compared to the English Super League he has dominated in recent seasons.
While Whitehead was accustomed to playing 80 minutes every week for Catalans, there is no guarantee of a similar workload in Canberra's stacked forward pack, though he is aiming to be able to handle it if called upon to do so.
Whitehead was in the top 10 tacklers in the Super League last year, making 937 tackles at just over 40 per game while also running for 97 metres per contest with 11 tries and 11 try assists.
He told NRL.com that it had always been a dream to test himself in the NRL and a positive word about the club from a couple of mates had helped entice him to Canberra.
"I just always wanted to play NRL since I was younger and this is probably the first time I've had the opportunity to come over," he said.
"Making the decision to come to Canberra, it made the decision easier already knowing a few of the boys here and obviously there are some boys here I'd played alongside [such as former Catalans teammate Sam Williams and Test teammate Josh Hodgson] and they only had positive things to say about the club and how Ricky Stuart would help me as a player. It made everything sound positive which made my choice to come here a lot easier."
While Whitehead has yet to suit up in the NRL, one of the biggest changes from the Super League he noticed straight away is the fact the off season occurs in an Australian summer rather than a British winter.
"Pre-season's a lot harder. I don't know if that's just because of the weather – we don't usually do pre-season back home in the middle of summer," he said.
"It's a lot harder running around in 40 degrees than it is in minus two!"
While he struggled for the first couple of weeks he adapted fairly quickly and it's possible that stripping down five kilograms was part of what helped him to adapt.
"When I got here they said they wanted to get me down to 103, 104 because NRL is just that little bit faster. With me shedding that bit of weight hopefully it helps when it comes to playing," he said.
"The last two years at Catalans I've played every game, 80 minutes. I'm capable of playing 80 minutes. Like I said I'm probably in the best shape I've been for a while, I think I've lost five kilograms since I got here so without that extra bit of weight hopefully I can last 80 minutes here if I have to."
Whitehead's recruitment certainly earned the tick of approval from both Williams and Hodgson.
"He's a tough player. He'll add some great quality to the squad and he'll add some skill and some toughness and some professionalism to the side as well. He's a good bloke to have around the place and he's a great addition to the team," Hodgson said.
"I knew he would be as soon as I heard there was a chance of him coming here so I'm really glad he decided to come. He's fitted in really well, he's done really well with the ball work stuff and the training and the intensity and the heat and everything, he's adapted really good.
"He's tough, he's got a great set of hands, he's great out there on the edges – he scored quite a lot of tries for Catalans and Bradford when he was there. He's an England representative and I think that speaks volumes for the calibre of player that he is."
Added Williams: "I was lucky enough to play with Elliot over in France for six months and I felt we had a good combination over there.
"He's an exceptional player. Once again our recruitment have done a really good job by looking outside the box a little bit. There's quality over in the Super League and we've got another really good player in Elliot Whitehead. It's exciting to have him here."
Hodgson's number one piece of advice for his Test teammate is to remember that while the Super League provides a big disparity between the tough games against the top sides you have to get up for compared to easier games against weaker clubs, in the NRL there are no easy games.
"I just explained to him that every week's pretty full on; in the Super League you'll have the top four teams that the game speed is a lot faster than it would be normally then the other games it tends to be tough but you don't have to really get up for the massive games every week.
"Whereas over here you've got to be on the money every week or you're going to get beat so I think that was the biggest thing that I could probably tell him but he's a good trainer and he's a good bloke and he knows he's got to come here and work hard but he's willing to do that and he's already started doing that so he'll fit in really well to the competition."
This article first appeared on www.nrl.com