2nd September 2020, 14:01 | nrl
Canberra second-rower John Bateman insists he doesn’t plan to emulate fellow English forward Sam Burgess by targeting Sydney Roosters star recruit Sonny Bill Williams in his return NRL appearance.
Burgess, who was playing for South Sydney, famously singled out Williams and ran over the top of him in his first match back in the NRL in 2013 but Bateman said he would just focus on trying to help the Raiders move into fourth spot by beating the Roosters.
Williams’ first game in the NRL since 2014 has generated massive hype, with Canberra members snapping up available tickets within 15 minutes on Monday and Raiders officials seeking an exemption to increase capacity at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
Bateman said he had watched highlights of Williams while growing up in England and was excited to get the opportunity to play against the dual code superstar, who has won two NRL premierships, two Rugby World Cups with the All Blacks and an Olympic Sevens gold medal.
“It’s exciting for the NRL itself, he is a massive name for what he has done in the game and not just league but rugby union and boxing as well,” Bateman said.
“As a kid, probably 14 or 15, I watched his highlights non-stop. Everyone knows who he is in the world and he's huge for the sport. He's been one of the best players in the game.
"But we're just looking at it as someone else we're playing against this week who is a good player so we need to look out for him."
The 35-year-old, who joined the Roosters for the remainder of this season after Toronto Wolfpack withdrew from the Super League competition due to obstacles caused by COVID-19, has been named on the interchange in jersey No.17.
The Roosters also welcome back Kangaroos five-eighth Luke Keary and Tonga winger Daniel Tupou from injury in the eagerly awaited clash between last year’s grand finalists, which could decide which of them finishes in the top four.
"It's players around Sonny that make Sonny a good player and we're playing the Roosters, who have won back-to-back premierships and I think the focus will be on guys like [Boyd] Cordner, their halves and [James] Tedesco.
“Sonny coming off the bench just boosts their line-up. Obviously he is a good player who has been at the top for a long time and Sonny will be someone we need to look out for. He’ll still dangerous.”
The last time the Raiders met the Roosters, they won 24-20 in one of the best matches of the season and Canberra, featuring the English quartet of Bateman, George Williams, Elliott Whitehead and Ryan Sutton, are looking to repeat the effort.
The Raiders and Roosters are equal on 22 points with four rounds of the regular season remaining but if Canberra lose they are in danger of being leap-frogged by South Sydney on for-and-against.
The Rabbitohs, led by England prop Tom Burgess, are sixth on 20 points and will go into Friday’s match against second-placed Melbourne full of confidence after big back-to-back wins over Manly and Parramatta.
A Storm loss would give the third-placed Eels the opportunity to move ahead of Melbourne on for-and-against if they can stop the Warriors tilt at a fairy tale finals berth in Sunday’s match at Gosford.
The Warriors have won four of their last five matches under interim coach Todd Payton and are now daring to dream of finishing in the top eight.
Another match with a huge bearing on the make-up of the finals is Friday’s clash between seventh-placed Newcastle and eighth-placed Cronulla, who face the Warriors the week after.
The Knights are on 19 points, with the Sharks on 18 and the Warriors on 14.
Competition leaders Penrith play Brisbane on Thursday, with the Panthers aiming for a club record 12th consecutive win and the Broncos hoping for an upset to help their campaign to avoid the first wooden spoon in the club’s history.
The last placed Canterbury Bulldogs welcome back England prop Luke Thompson for Saturday’s match against Gold Coast Titans, while the Sea Eagles will be without name-sake Joel Thompson for Sunday’s clash with Wests Tigers.
The St Helens-bound second-rower has played his last NRL match after undergoing season-ending ankle surgery, and there is speculation Tigers superstar Benji Marshall could find his way to Super League after being squeezed out of the club.
St George Illawarra travel to North Queensland for the remaining match of the round on Sunday.