From sunshine and freedom to rain and lockdown

Host of the Green Machine Podcast, Mike, interviewed Elliott Whitehead to chat about his thoughts on the 2021 season and about settling back into life in locked down Canberra.

Make sure you read out Elliott’s answers in his rough Northern English tones in your head….

Mike: Welcome to the Green Machine Podcast, the captain of the illustrious Canberra Raiders, Elliott Whitehead. Thanks very much for joining us.

Elliott: No worries mate, thanks for having me.

M: It’s been a bit of a year. You’ve spent a bunch of time up in Queensland, but I understand you’re back in Canberra now.

E: Yeah back in Canberra now. Spent a week up there after the season to get a bit of season, but I’m back now and in lockdown, which has obviously been extended for another four weeks. So probably should have stayed up there to be honest. 

M: I was wondering about that. We’re obviously facing a lot of lockdowns here are the moment and Queensland is fairly open – why the need to rush back?

E: I just wanted to get back with my partner and that. Obviously she’s down here (in Canberra) and has to work from home so she couldn’t come up there (Queensland) so I just came back to spend time with her to be honest.

M: Good enough reason that!  Did plenty of the boys stay up there? Or have most come home?

E: Yeah a fair few boys that had their families with them stayed up there with their families. The boys that had their families and partners still in Canberra headed back home.  There’s a fair number of them still up there enjoying the sunshine while we’re still in lockdown here.

M: Yeah well it must be a bit of a challenge seeing all the boys still up there enjoying themselves on Instagram while you’re stuck at home.

E: Yeah it is a little bit but I’d prefer to be down here with my partner, than up there on my own to be honest.

M: You’re a bit of a character yourself on Instagram and you’ve got some funny videos with your French Bulldogs who are a bit of a crack up. What was it like being up in Queensland and being away from your regular routines?

E: Yeah it were pretty tough. Especially the first two weeks. Not being able to walk my two dogs and that. Not having the little things that I enjoy through the day.   It were a little bit different. But after two week(s) up there you kind of got into a bit of a routine and had stuff filled in up there for our days off and kept us busy so we’re not stuck in our rooms all day. We were pretty good in that aspect. I thought all the boys bought in really well. Unfortunately we pulled up short though and didn’t make the finals. 

M: Yeah it was a bit of a shame. There was a lot of promise this year going from a Grand Final, into a Prelim and then this year missing out on the finals all together. That’s got to be pretty hard to take for a bunch of competitive blokes who really would have thought they could have given the whole thing a real shake this year.

E: Yeah, definitely. Look we’re probably the most disappointed out of everyone. I believe, and the team believe, that we were a team that was deserving of being in the finals. Obviously we didn’t perform consistent enough and you know obviously we ended up where we were.  We’ll look at the offseason now and hopefully we can come back next year and show everyone what we are capable of next year.

M: There was a fair bit of controversy in the middle of the year especially. At the time players were all banding together saying we’re fine, we’re professionals and we’ve got to get on with it, but surely that was a distraction in a year where every win was crucial.

E: Oh look, it were a little bit of a distraction but we were all together when we were saying it in the media and stuff. It were all actually genuine. We just bought in together and we worked hard and like I said, we didn’t get the results that we needed. It felt like there were far too many games where we got a lead and let them back in during the second half. To be in them finals you have to be better than that and unfortunately this year we weren’t. 

M: There was that trend of letting teams back in. Was there any answers as to why that was happening? Is it a fitness issue or were you getting ahead of yourselves? It was one of those things that really seemed to plague the team this year.

E: I don’t know what it was. I don’t think it were a fitness issue. We had the hardest preseason we’ve ever had. Everyone was making record times in their runs and stuff. I don’t think it were a fitness issue and I don’t know if it were a mental issue or something in that aspect. We’d get a lead and when the other team would score we’d think here we go again. We probably have to do some work over the off season with those mental issues and get a bit stronger in that department. Like I said before, we’ll have some time off now, refresh and go again and hopefully we can do better next year.

M: What are your thoughts on the new rules? The six again rule, the way the ruck is being refereed and also high contact. I had some issues with some real incidental high contact getting given penalties this year and I’m not a fan of the six again rule myself. Do you think that affected the way we played as a team? Previously we were a gritty defensive team and now it all seems to be about momentum and scoring points at every opportunity.

E: I think that were a big thing. I think over the last two years, especially when we made the grand final and a prelim, we’d worked hard on playing a defensive game, slowing teams down and getting into the wrestle. You know obviously those rules came in and changed all of that momentum. Once your team gets that momentum it’s hard to turn your back at the moment. The six again rule makes it hard to turn the momentum back our way once a team does get it. So it’s something we’re going to have to look at in the offseason and see where we can pick-up from the other teams that picked that up quicker than we did this year. 

M: Absolutely. Now you gained a big title this year taking on the captaincy of the club. Some big names before you have had that title. Congratulations on that. You always seem to be a real leader of the boys on and off the field. How has it been for you being the captain this year?

E: Yeah, it were a bit of a shock at first because I didn’t know anything about it. Then Ricky said I’d be co-captain alongside Jarrod for the remainder of the year. It took a while to sink in and it felt a bit awkward at times. You know obviously I didn’t know what had gone on with Hodgy (Josh Hodgson) and Stick. Then Hodgy came in and said he didn’t want to be captain no more before Sticky gave it to me. It took a few weeks, but we’ve got a really good leadership group and all the boys got around me with their support. They helped me out a lot.

M: On a lighter note. From gaining an illustrious title this year, to losing one – over your last five years at the club you’ve played more games in the season than anyone else in the team. This year, you lost that title to Jordan Rapana. Are you disappointed to lose that title?

E: Not really. I’d like to play as many games as I could but against Gold Coast I got a stinger on me shoulder and lost all me power down me left arm. And I needed a few week for that to come back. I rested that up and then came back. 

M: I’m sure you’ll win that one back next year. I think games in the middle should count more than games for backs.

E: I don’t know about that. Where Rapa plays, he plays a bit crazy. So I’d give him that to be honest.

M: This year we saw a lot of young blokes come through when there were injuries. Some really exciting players we saw like Harley Smith-Shields, Xavier Savage with lightning speed, Matt Timoko killing it and Seb Kris came back too. A lot of young blokes looking to make positions theirs. What do you think of these guys and where they’ll improve going forward?

E: I think it’s great for the whole squad having those young blokes come through. They’ve had a taste and experience the NRL now and they all proved they’re worthy of their spot. It’s going to be good for us in pre-season. It’s going to be a challenge for some boys to keep their spot when we’ve got the young guys pushing through. Like I said, it’s only a positive for us, and the more experience they get, the better they’ll get. So it’s good to get them started early.

M: Unfortunately with the season over for us, are you done with footy for the year? Or are you watching the finals?

E: I’ll watch a little bit now and then. It’s always tough to watch when you’re not there. I’ll probably watch the grand final, but before that it doesn’t really bother me.

M: I like that attitude that if we’re not in it, I don’t care.

E: It’s just I’m jealous really.

M: On that note, who do you think wins the grand final this year?

E: I reckon Melbourne. They’re a quality team and they’ve been a quality team for many years. They’ve got that experience when it comes to finals. I can’t really go past them. They’ve proven all year just how good they can be.

M: What do you think we need to do to come back next year? Any ideas going forward?

E: I wouldn’t really know how to answer that. It’s probably a question for Ricky to answer. For me, I just think we’ve got a good squad and we’ve showed that over the last couple of years. There’s not much we need to change. We just need to catch up to the speed of the game now and move away from that wrestling tactic we tried. Obviously it didn’t work this year so something has to change and hopefully we can get the answers in the preseason.

M: There’s a lot of talk about who the Raiders have been chasing – basically any halfback under the sun gets linked to us whether they are on contract or not. How important is it that we bring someone in next year for that #7 position?

E: Yeah definitely I think we need a good quality halfback. No disrespect to the boys that we’ve got there at the moment. They’ve done a great job. But I feel like for us, to go forward a bit further we need someone that’s a bit more experienced. So it would be good for us to get someone but if we don’t I know that the boys will do a job. It’s a job for us around them to be better next year as well so they’re not in the limelight. 

You can listen to the full interview and the Green Machine Podcast Season Review on all your favourite podcast platforms or on Soundcloud below.

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