England second-rower Elliott Whitehead and his Canberra Raiders team-mate Jack Wighton have been preparing for this weekend’s match against NRL competition leaders Parramatta by riding horses in the hills near the Australian capital.
With the strict COVID-19 protocols for NRL players being eased this week, Whitehead and Wighton took the opportunity to visit the countryside on horseback.
“We’ve been stuck at home for nearly two months now so a few of us got out on Monday and played a bit of golf, and me and Jack went horse riding,” Whitehead said.
“I haven’t been on a horse for 20 years so it was a bit scary at the start but it’s good to do something different and to be able to get out of the house.
“We just rode for about 90 minutes up hills and my horse didn’t want to listen to me at times but it was good fun. We will probably do it more often.”
Canberra officials may have had flashbacks to when Bradley Clyde injured his shoulder after being thrown off a horse during the 1999 NSW State of Origin camp, but Whitehead and Wighton were unscathed and are now focussed on Saturday’s clash with the Eels.
Both teams are coming off losses last weekend, with the Raiders suffering a 14-6 defeat to Manly and Parramatta being over-run 24-10 by back-to-back premiers Sydney Roosters.
Whitehead scored Canberra’s only try from a kick by English halfback George Williams and the Raiders admit their attack has been lacking in recent weeks.
“I think our defence has been good, it’s just in our attack that we haven’t been as fluent as we would like to be at the moment,” Whitehead said. “If we cut the errors out it is going to give us more opportunities.”
England hooker Josh Hodgson added: “Speaking to the other boys in the spine [Williams, Wighton and fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad) we think it is a pretty easy fix so we will see how we go against Parramatta. It is another tough test against a team who are playing some good footy.”
Round seven starts on Thursday with the second-placed Penrith Panthers looking to back up last weekend’s defeat of Melbourne Storm with another win against the Wayne Bennett-coached South Sydney Rabbitohs, whose forward pack will be led by England prop Tom Burgess.
A spike in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne has forced the Storm to relocate to Sydney for Friday’s opening match against the New Zealand Warriors, who will be under the guidance of interim coach Todd Payten following the shock sacking of Stephen Kearney.
The Roosters play St George Illawarra on Friday night in the first match for the Dragons since the departure of former England captain James Graham, who will join St Helens for the remainder of the Super League season.
The Newcastle Knights will travel to North Queensland on Saturday without teen star Bradman Best after he inadvertently breached the strict COVID-19 regulations by visiting his mum and dad at their home without approval, while the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans face off in a derby.
The high-flying Manly Sea Eagles play the Cronulla Sharks in the Battle of the Beaches at Central Coast Stadium on Sunday, before the Western Sydney derby between Canterbury Bulldogs and Wests Tigers.
Round Seven Fixtures (all games live on Sky Sports Arena):
10:50am - Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
09:00am - Melbourne Storm v New Zealand Warriors
10:55am - Sydney Roosters v St George-lllawarra Dragons
06:00am - North Queensland v Newcastle
08:30am - Brisbane Broncos v Gold Coast Titans
10:35am - Parramatta Eels v Canberra Raiders
07:05am - Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks
09:30am - Canterbury Bulldogs v Wests Tigers