14th October 2020, 11:55 | nrl

NRL Preliminary Finals | Preview

NRL Preliminary Finals | Preview

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has praised former Wigan halfback George Williams for assuming added responsibility after the loss of fellow Englishman Josh Hodgson to help steer the Raiders within a win of a second successive NRL grand final.

Williams had started his first season in Canberra as a running halfback but has evolved his game to take on organisational duties with star five-eighth Jack Wighton.

The pair were instrumental in last weekend’s 22-18 elimination of premiers Sydney Roosters, with Williams laying on the match winning try for Wighton with a grubber kick that bamboozled superstar fullback James Tedesco.

The Raiders now take on Melbourne in a preliminary finals clash at Suncorp Stadium on Friday that could be former Australian captain Cameron Smith’s last game if the Storm are beaten.

“To lose a world class player like Josh, I understand why people said straight away that the season is over, but both the halves took a step forward and said 'We will control the ruck now', Stuart said.

"We have got two or three different styles of attack and once Josh left we had to go to plan B. Having two experienced halves like that was really a big help for me as a coach because they could take over the ownership and responsibility from Hodgo." 

Williams’s father Peter, who lives in Perth, will travel across the Nullarbor to watch his son play in the grand final if the Raiders qualify.

With borders closed between Western Australia and eastern states because of the coronavirus pandemic, Peter has not been able to attend any NRL matches but Williams and Stuart caught up with him during February’s NRL 9s in Perth.

It was nice to have a chat and a few beers with him,” Stuart told NRL 360. “He was a coach of Wigan and he’s a coach in Perth now, he’s got a really good footy brain and I really enjoyed talking to him.

“There were a lot of people talking about how our halves wouldn’t work because we have two runners.

“I was very happy to have two runners but I was also very confident that George could be a player that could play on the ruck and organise our style of game.

“I got great confidence out of talking to George's father. I told him my plans for George and said it would probably happen half way through the season and he said that’s the style George likes to play.”

Hodgson has been ruled out for the season but Williams and English forwards Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman will be key players for Canberra.

English prop Ryan Sutton has been named on an extended bench and could return from a knee injury if the Raiders make the October 25 grand final.

The winner of Friday’s preliminary final will meet the victor in Saturday’s clash between minor premiers Penrith and the in-form South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.

The Rabbitohs finished sixth but have scored 140 points in their last three matches against the Roosters, Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels under former England coach Wayne Bennett.

It is the third consecutive season Souths have reached the preliminary final but few gave them much hope this year after losing Sam Burgess and 2014 premiership winning captain John Sutton to retirement, and George Burgess to Wigan.

However, the NRL’s most successful coach has turned the Rabbitohs into the most potent attacking team in the competition, with Souths averaging 35 points per match in their last eight games since Bennett returned from a 14-day isolation after breaching the NRL’s biosecurity protocols.

If Bennett guides Souths to their 22nd premiership he will also become the first coach to win grand finals with three NRL clubs after triumphing six times with Brisbane and once with St George Illawarra.


NRL Fixtures - Live on Sky Sports Arena

Friday 16th October

09:50 - Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders

Saturday 17th October

09:50 - Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs