Canberra is a long way from Bradford, especially when you’re asked to make your NRL debut in 35 degree heat.
But that’s exactly what new English recruit Elliott Whitehead faced in the Raiders opening round win over the Penrith Panthers at GIO Stadium.
Despite the testing conditions, the veteran of 177 English Super League games and five tests for England made a stirring start to his Rugby League career in Australia, as the Raiders eventually overpowered the Panthers on the way to a 30-22 win.
Pulling on the famous lime green jersey for the first time, the former forward for Bradford Bulls and Catalans Dragons played a full 80 minutes, notching up 37 tackles and 12 hit-ups as a key cog in the Raiders backrow.
Whitehead was quick to point to the training methods of Raiders coach Ricky Stuart in preparing both himself and his teammates for the grueling, early-season match conditions.
“We’ve trained all pre-season at 3pm in the heat, and that’s been great for getting used to those conditions,” Whitehead said.
“I’m glad I got 80 minutes, and that I showed I’m capable of doing that - hopefully with a bit more match fitness I can improve my game and stay on for 80 minutes consistently.”
In fact, Whitehead was one of only three forwards across both teams to play the entire 80 minutes – Raiders and England teammate Josh Hodgson and Panthers backrower Bryce Cartwright were the others – in a performance that left him sporting a slight cut above his right eye.
After relocating to Australia’s capital following England’s Four Nations campaign last year, Whitehead said he was glad to get his first NRL game under his belt.
“I’m glad I’ve got the taste of it now, hopefully I’ve done enough to keep my spot for this week and hopefully I can improve on my personal game as well,” he said.
Whitehead said he wasn’t sure what to expect moving to the NRL from Super League, but one thing he definitely underestimated was the speed of the Australian game compared to back home, which potentially led to him recording a team-high five missed tackles against the Panthers.
“I didn’t think the NRL could be too much faster (than Super League), but once I started playing I remember thinking to myself that this is a lot quicker.
“It took me about 25 minutes to get into the game and get my second wind, but once I got that I felt I could stay out there for the full 80 minutes.
“Physically, I wouldn’t say it’s much different, but the rucks are a lot faster, getting up and playing the ball.
“When it’s slow in Super League you get more line speed up, so when you’re defending you get up in their faces a lot more, whereas here you’re rolling a lot more down the field.”
CLICK HERE to read the match report from the Raiders win!