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27th January 2018, 10:21 | steve_mascord

Home & Away: Elliott Whitehead

Home & Away: Elliott Whitehead

By Steve Mascord

THAT ankle-tap, the Canberra fat club, Denver - Elliott Whitehead covers most bases in our exclusive pre-season chat.

Rugby-league.com: Have you watched the World Cup final again?

Elliott Whitehead: ”Yeah, yeah it’s disappointing the way we lost, just 6-0. But it shows the improvement we’ve got in the international game now and hopefully we can kick on from that.”

RLC: Did you gain any new perspectives from watching it on video and, if so, what?

EW: “Just taking our chances while we’ve got them. Playing against quality opposition like Australia, you’ve got to take those chances. We did have a few and, you know, we just couldn’t execute with the ball. Hopefully we can learn from that and keep improving.”

RLC: Josh Dugan’s ankle-tap on Kallum Watkins – was that easier to cop the second time around?

EW: “It’s one of them – if he doesn’t get ankle-tapped he either scores or passes to me. I don’t know. It’s hard to watching, knowing that’s what probably stopped us from levelling up the game. But all credit to Josh Dugan for getting there and getting Kallum down.”

RLC: Speaking of Joshes, how’s Josh Hodgson with his knee injury? There was talk of Mickey McIllorum being an emergency replacement…

EW: “Yeah there was. I’m not sure what happened there. Josh is doing great. He’s a little bit ahead of where he should be at the moment so hopefully he can just keep doing his prehab and getting his knee right and he’ll be back as soon as possible. I think he’s due back round 20 so it’s still a long way away. He’s got a lot of prehab and rehab to do. He’s going to be a big loss for us, on and off the field. What he brings to off the field is massive as well. But we bought a few hookers. We’ve got Craig Garvey and Siliva Havili. They’ve both been fitting in really well and they’re both in good shape so I’m sure they’ll both, if they get a chance, do a good job for us.”

RLC: I see a few of you who played in the World Cup found yourselves in the Raiders’ fat squad…

EW: “(Jordan Rapana) threw me under the bus in an interview, didn’t he? It’s tough to stay in shape and we probably expected to be in (the fat squad). We’re all not too far away from getting out of there now, to where the club want us. Probably another week or so and I reckon most of the boys will be out of there. We didn’t come back in too bad shape but from the holiday we were just a little bit over where we should have been.”

RLC: What do you have to do in the fat squad? Just extras?

EW: “Yeah, we have three mornings. One will be swimming, one will be doing some cardio at the local gym that we use and on Saturday we do boxing with the Australian boxing coach who’s at the AIS (Australian Institute Of Sport). He makes us get a good sweat up on a Saturday morning. Another few weeks and I’m sure most of the boys will have reached their targets and be out of there. There’s only the World Cup boys – the Samoan boys, me, Rapa’ and (Joe) Tapine.”

RLC: So much for your extra time off! Would you trade it?

EW: “No, they didn’t expect us to come back in the shape where they want us for the first game of the season. It’s always nice to have some time off and spend it with your family and get away and take your mind off of rugby.”

RLC: Have you had any contact with Wayne Bennett since the World Cup ended?

EW: “No, I haven’t spoken to Wayne since the World Cup. He’s got his own things now with Brisbane and I’m sure he’ll be just concentrating on them at the moment, trying to get the Brisbane team ready for the season and working them as hard as we are down here in Canberra.”

RLC: What are your thoughts on him sticking around as England coach?

EW: “Definitely. He showed over the last two years how much improvement he brought to our game as an international team. I’m sure if he stayed around we’d just keep on improving off the back of what he brings.”

RLC: There is talk of a mid-season Test in Denver against the Kiwis but NRL clubs are baulking at releasing players. What are your thoughts?

EW: “For us as an international team, we really need that mid-season game. I think it showed against Samoa last year, just getting the boys together and getting some combinations. Probably in the years before we never had that. It really helped us going into the World Cup. The Australian teams, they have Origin and that way they can all meet up because all based here whereas as an England team we’re based some in Super League and some in the NRL. I think it really needs to go ahead. I know some of the NRL clubs aren’t happy with it and I can understand why … but I really think it could happen.”

RLC: The NRL clubs are releasing other players to other games that weekend but seem to object to the venue.

EW: “Even if we play over in Australia again, the English boys still have to travel. There’s a lot of um-ing and ah-ing but hopefully they sort it out and it goes ahead.”

RLC: You played a bit it the back backline last year. Will you do that again?

EW: “Probably not. Some of those boys playing centre and wing are a little bit quicker than me and a bit better on their feet. I’ll try not to go out there this year but if I need to go out there, I’m willing to put my hand up and just go the best I can out there.”

RLC: Last season there were a lot of expectations around the club. This year, do you feel those expectations have eased?

EW: “We had a disappointing season last year. We’ve still got the quality in the squad to push for the finals so we’re just going to forget about last year and take some things out that we need to learn, like keeping hold of the ball a little bit more and building pressure and finishing at the right end of the field where we want to finish. So, we’ve been training hard on that. Well, the boys have been training hard – I’ve only been there two weeks. I can really feel the improvement in the boys already.”