Whitehead back and ready to kick on
After a stellar debut season in the NRL, Canberra Raiders back-rower Elliott Whitehead returns refreshed and ready to ride the highs and lows of the 2017 season.
Incredibly, the England international missed just two minutes of 2016 and was an integral part in the Green Machine's charge to the finals last season.
A high shot from Whitehead on Sharks fullback Ben Barba in the dying stages of the opening finals match was one of those experiences, something that he admitted knocked his confidence around at the time. Cronulla would go on to win the game and ultimately the premiership.
Canberra rallied well to beat the Panthers the following week, but fell short to the Storm in the grand final qualifier at AAMI Park.
The 27-year-old joked that upon returning to Australia for his second season in the game, was asked by teammates if he was sick after escaping the hot summer in Canberra to return home for the English winter over Christmas.
"I'm still a bit pale. I'm used to it (the weather) now but still struggle a little bit and try and not stay in the sun for too long," Whitehead told NRL.com.
"The first day I got here in 2015 I landed on a Friday. Sam Williams took me to Cooma races because I knew him from Catalan so went there on the Saturday. On the Monday, I started training and it was 38 degrees and I was thinking, 'What have I signed up for?'."
He evidently signed up for an average 40 tackles per game and over 10 carries with the ball to be one of the Raiders' most consistent players for the season.
"After a week or so I got into things and really enjoyed it. I felt like I had a good season off the back of a good pre-season last year so hopefully I can do the same this year.
"I didn't expect to play as much as I did last year. I wanted to, but I didn't think I would get straight into the team and keep that spot every round.
"I just need to concentrate on my own game and play as well as I can."
Canberra have been predicted by many to go one better and reach their first grand final in over 20 seasons on the back of last year's effort, but Whitehead said the side could not afford to look that far ahead or listen to the hype.
"We are just starting fresh… there's a long way to go," he said.
"We just need to concentrate on Round 1 in Townsville and hopefully build on some confidence there and then kick on.
"It's going to be a tough season but we are just going to wait and see where we are at come Round 26."
While the team goals remain simple for the Raiders to start the year, Whitehead has made his intentions clear in terms of where he wants to be in November, and it's not returning to pre-season training in the nation's capital.
"I haven't played in a World Cup yet and that's one of my goals for this year to get in that [England] squad at the end of the year," he said.
"There is some tough competition for me with some good back-rowers in the Super League and they'll be fighting for that spot as well."
This article first appeared on NRL.com