Raiders halfback Sam Williams knows the return of Terry Campese places added pressure on him to perform to his best Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
The return from long-term injury of five-eighth and captain Terry Campese on Saturday night has put Canberra youngster Sam Williams on high alert, with the 22-year-old well aware he is still playing for a new contract beyond 2013.
The Raiders are expected to fight for their young halfback in the face of interest from rival NRL clubs, particularly St George Illawarra, but with Campese back and Josh McCrone also in the mix there are no guarantees that Williams will even hold onto his No.7 jersey for the remainder of the 2013 season.
His cause won't have been harmed by a strong showing in the team's comeback win over Sydney Roosters last Sunday but Williams told NRL.com that he was well aware of the need to keep performing.
"You try not to think about the contract when you run out to play. But I am off contract this year and I do need to play well enough to get another one," he said ahead of the Raiders' clash with the Warriors at Canberra Stadium.
"We've got a lot of depth here at the club and you've got to make sure that with every opportunity you get in the top grade you're playing well and doing your best to cement a spot. I think it is probably hanging over my head a little bit but it's not something I'm worrying about too much."
Asked if coach David Furner had given any indication about what Campese's return would mean position-wise, Williams replied: "We haven't had too much of a chat about it."
Highly rated as a junior, Williams has played 38 first grade games since making his debut in 2011 – his progression aided by consecutive season-ending injuries to Campese over the past two seasons.
But while he has often taken a back seat to the more experienced McCrone, he showed what he is capable of last week with a starring performance in the 24-22 win over the Roosters, with the Roosters franking the Raiders' form with a devastating 38-nil shutout of the Bulldogs in their round six clash on Friday night.
Williams said it was time he started taking on much greater responsibility over the coming months.
"I think it's probably something I need to do a little bit more," he said. "At times I have probably let Josh do too much and need to get involved a little bit more.
"It changed last week when Josh went to hooker and I took a little bit more control and had more say in our sets. I was pretty happy to get us rolling and contribute to a good win but I guess with Tony (Milford) coming on, I've played a little bit more footy in first grade than him so I needed to make sure I took more control. I probably had to make sure we worked ourselves back into the game."
Williams said he was starting to feel much more comfortable in the NRL squad this season.
"Certainly the experience helps," he said. "I've played 30-odd games now and I feel like I've improved in a lot of areas of my game. I'm obviously still working on a lot of things but you never feel comfortable. I guess there are always challenges week in, week out.
"I think controlling the game is a major thing for me, especially being a halfback. It's always come naturally to me trying to talk and lead the boys but it's different when you come into first grade when the team is under the pump and you really need to stand up. I think last weekend, that was something that is starting to improve and hopefully that can take us forward as well. I do take a lot of confidence out of the games that I've had."
The stats show Williams is indeed controlling things for his side – he has three try assists so far, the equal third most by any halfback. However, his running game has taken a back seat, with his average of just 25 metres a game the second fewest gained by a No.7 behind Adam Reynolds.
But just as the Souths halfback wins accolades for supplying his outside man John Sutton, Williams' passing game gets the opportunity to shine even more from this week with the return of Campese.
The head-to-head battle between Williams and Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson (three try assists, two line-breaks and two tries) will be compelling and key to each team's chances.
The Raiders have endured a stop-go beginning to the season – a situation not unfamiliar in the nation's capital in recent times – but with two wins from their past three games they have the chance to get their season back on track if they can score back-to-back wins over the Warriors this weekend.
"This game is just as important as last weekend's game was," Williams said. "We've had a stuttering start so this is a chance to get that win before we have the week off and get that momentum into the season. If we get a win this week it just gets our season rolling a little bit."