Adrian Morley. Gareth Ellis. Sam Burgess. John Bateman. James Graham.
Aussies are used to seeing Britain’s big boppers bulldoze the NRL.
But if George Williams’ five-star performance in Canberra’s demolition of Melbourne is anything to go by, the Wigan product might become the premier Pommy playmaker to crack it Down Under.
NRL legends queued up to heap praise on the Raiders’ recruit after he dominated the biggest match of the restart round, supplying two tries and even more key pieces of defence in Canberra’s 22-6 triumph.
Six-time Grand Final winner Cooper Cronk was one of Williams’ admirers, arguing his off-the-cuff approach will flourish under the NRL’s new six-again rule for ruck infringements that have been designed to speed up play.
“He’s outstanding – he has hit the ceiling and above, for me, in terms of his impact on the Raiders and the NRL,” Cronk said.
“That style of play suits the new rules, considering most play will be down the middle third of the field, getting in and around the tired ruck defenders.
“His ceiling is amazing, going off his first three games.”
Raiders assistant coach Michael Ennis has seen Williams thrive under his new coach Ricky Stuart on the training track, soaking up knowledge from the former Kangaroos maestro.
“He’s got one of the greatest halfbacks as his educator now, and the minute Rick starts talking about certain positions on the field and certain ways to exploit a defensive line, he almost starts practising that in his head,” said Ennis, who was impressed by Williams’ looping two-man cut-out for the Raiders’ second try.
“To do that against one of the premier defensive lines was all class. It was all class from Williams tonight.”
And the former Super League star was as impressive in defence as he was with ball in hand.
His monster hit on Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen in the 49th minute is sure to be replayed more often than his two silky try assists in the first half.
“I don’t know, there was a bit of luck in that [Papenhuyzen tackle], I think,” smiled Williams, who also came up with two other try-saving interventions late in the contest.
“I just got my body in front. I missed him earlier in the first half, so I was hoping to get him back, and luckily I got him pretty good.”
The former Wigan star has taken no time to adjust to the demands of the NRL, confidently steering the Raiders to an unblemished three-from-three start to the 2020 campaign.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy anointed Canberra the premiership favourites post-game, and few good judges would disagree with him.
The Raiders lost a heart-breaking Grand Final to the Sydney Roosters last October, and are craving to go one better in this pandemic-interrupted campaign.
But Williams is refusing to be swept up in the hype.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board and obviously not get too carried away,” he said.
“We knew we were in for a tough game today, and I just really enjoyed it. It was a tough test for me, playing against Melbourne for the first time, and I’m just happy to get the win.”
Words: Tom Smith