It hasn’t gone unnoticed that new Canberra recruit George Williams appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to
English British selection.
Some see it as emblematic of a problematic trajectory. Williams established himself as a star in Super League when he took over from Blake Green as five-eighth for Wigan in 2015. He won young player of the year in 2015, won the competition in 2016 (including starring in the pantsing the Sharks in the world club challenge final). He first played international football in 2015, and was in the side as recently as 2018.
Many say his club form has been quiet since he signed with Canberra – although this is hard to square against the fact he was nominated for the Man of Steel award in 2019. They argue his inability to crack the Lions this year would form part of a stagnation in his play that should worry Raiders’ coaches. When the man deciding that he’s not up to the grade is none other than super coach Wayne Bennett, you can see why people would be worried.
Part of the reason missing out on international selection is given so much weight is because in Australia we’ve had so little exposure to Williams. Most of us have only seen his play in highlights packages, or in his previous outings in internationals. So when he’s been considered behind NRL rejects Jackson Hastings and Blake Austin there’s a lack of tape to ascertain truth from speculation.
But if the performances of the Lions side are anything to go by, we wouldn’t have learnt anything from them anyway. Part of the the problem is that the style of play adopted by England is anodyne at best. Push to one edge and try to win a ruck, then swing back the other way with big, simple, sweeping movements that rely on pace and depth to find space. The halves are the fulcrum but more often than not they are tasked with sending the ball along the line like an old-style fire-crew. They play at the corner posts rather than the goal posts. Straightening the attack is something for the fringes.
Williams is a lot of things, but he’s not a shuffler. He’s best when he’s attacking the line straight-up, with options on either side. It’s the style of play that is most successful in NRL right now. The old style edge-to-edge movements are simply gobbled up by defences, as the
English British side has discovered this tour. In this side it’s not clear how he’d fit in, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.
It’s also a big part of what he’ll be asked to do for Canberra in 2020. The right edge he’ll become part of thrives when the half can take on the line. He doesn’t have to create every time down the park because Bateman and BJ are equally likely to assist.
So if Williams is missing out because he doesn’t fit the British side’s game plan, it is may show he’s more suited to the role he’ll perform next season. That’s not to say he’ll be a roaring success next year. Be worried how he’ll fit alongside Wighton. Be worried if his defence is up to the targeting he will face. But for mine, don’t be worried he hasn’t played a role in the debacle offered by the Lions.