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9th September 2020, 15:00 | nrl

NRL Preview | Round 18

NRL Preview | Round 18

Jack Wighton hails George Williams

Canberra five-eighth Jack Wighton has heaped praise on his English halves partner George Williams as the Raiders look to force their way into the top four before the NRL finals commence next month.

The Raiders have slipped to fifth place after losing 18-6 to Sydney Roosters in the most watched game of the season in Canberra last Saturday but are hoping to still claim a top four berth with wins in their remaining matches against the Dragons, Warriors and Sharks.

The Roosters play the sixth-placed Knights, eighth-placed Sharks and seventh-placed Rabbitohs in their run home to the play-offs and if they lose any of those matches could be leap-frogged by the Raiders, who boast one of the NRL’s form halves pairings in Wighton and Williams.

“George is playing great,” Wighton said. “There were a lot of doubts coming into the year with two running halves but we have bonded well in such a short time together.”

Williams has scored four tries and produced 11 try assists in his 17 matches since joining Canberra from Wigan this season and Wighton believes their combination will continue to improve. 

“He has been good, he has got a great short kicking game and he has been leading the boys around well so we just need to keep working on that,” Wighton said.

“We have got a few more years together yet so hopefully we can keep building that bond and that relationship.”

With Williams and Canberra’s other contracted English stars Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton agreeing not to return home during the off-season, the Raiders will have the opportunity to spend more time together away from playing and training. 

The Raiders’ hopes of going one better than last year’s grand final defeat to the Roosters has received a boost with former St Helens prop Iosia Soliola named in an extended squad for Saturday’s match against St George Illawarra after recovering from horrific facial fractures.

If he doesn’t make the trip to Wollongong, Soliola is likely to make his return against the Warriors the following week.

“He is looking great. He is starting to get his fitness back and he has got one more scan now to see where he is at and then he will be back in the near future,” Wighton said.

Penrith is currently the only team with every member of their squad able to train and the Panthers have the chance to secure the minor premiership by defeating third-placed Parramatta on Friday.

At the opposite end of the NRL ladder, England prop Luke Thompson will be trying to help Canterbury avoid the wooden spoon by inflicting a seventh-consecutive loss on Manly in Friday’s other match.

Round 18 commences on Thursday with the match between South Sydney and Wests Tigers, who still have a slim chance of making the top eight after scoring three tries in the last 10 minutes to stun the Sea Eagles 34-32 last weekend.

The ninth-placed Tigers will then rely on the tenth-placed Warriors to beat Cronulla on Sunday.

Such a result would move the Tigers and Warriors to within two points of the Sharks, who face the Roosters and Raiders in their remaining matches.

Newcastle will be looking to secure their place in the play-offs by defeating the Roosters on Saturday but must do so without star fullback Kalyn Ponga, who was the victim of an ugly high shot for which Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend was sent off last weekend.

Melbourne will be aiming to keep their hopes of winning the minor premiership alive by beating North Queensland on Sunday, while the Titans have the chance to become the first Gold Coast team to beat Brisbane twice in a season when they meet on Saturday.