Elliiott Whitehead reaches Canberra century in huge clash

Elliott Whitehead of Canberra Raiders
Elliott Whitehead of Canberra Raiders

England forward Elliott Whitehead is hoping to mark his 100th appearance for Canberra with victory in the 'Battle of Britain' to earn a place in the NRL Grand Final.

Whitehead will be one of at least six Englishmen involved in Friday's first semi-final in the Australian capital between the Raiders and South Sydney.

The former Bradford and Catalans Dragons second rower will line up alongside John Bateman and Josh Hodgson as Canberra go up against a Rabbitohs side that includes the Burrgess brothers, Sam, Tom and George, and is coached by England boss Wayne Bennett.

Whitehead has been overshadowed this year by the arrival of his old Bradford team-mate Bateman but he has missed only one match in his four seasons with the Raiders and his contribution is not lost on his coach Ricky Stuart.

"Elliott has probably been our most consistent player all season," Stuart told the club's website. "He covers his team-mates' backs so well, the boys love playing with him.

"He does fly under the radar a little bit but he makes sure I know all about it. He certainly doesn't let me have that line of thought."

Whitehead, who recently extended his stay with Canberra until the end of 2022, is delighted to reach his century but remains focused on the task in hand.

"It's a great personal achievement for myself but this week is all about the team and taking one step closer towards our goal," Whitehead said.

The ex-Super League contingent could become seven if former Wigan forward Ryan Sutton, currently 19th man, forces his way into the Raiders side and that would break the record for the most Englishmen in an NRL match which was set when the two teams met in round 10.

"I think it's a great moment for the game," Sam Burgess said. "What is it, seven and an English coach? That's a great testament for the English game and the players they can produce."

Bateman was the odd one out in May, when he missed the Raiders' 16-12 defeat at the GIO Stadium through injury, and Burgess, who also began his career with the Bulls, is relishing the prospect of going up against his England team-mate.

"We came through the same system together and it will be good to play against him," Burgess said.

"I've not done that yet. He's been a revelation this year.

"But it's business as usual for us and it will be the same for them."

Victory for the Rabbitohs would enable George Burgess to go out on a high as he prepares to take up a three-year contract with Wigan from 2020 but defeat would bring his South Sydney career to an abrupt end.

"That's the reality of the situation," Sam said. "The time is ticking down and we're just enjoying every minute together.

"But we have to take that emotion out come game time."

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