Under-rated Raiders halves Josh McCrone and Sam Williams say there’s plenty of motivation to do well in this Sunday’s City-Country showdown, with the Country playmakers revealing they are playing for their first grade NRL futures.
Following the successful return of Canberra captain Terry Campese from another long-term injury last weekend, the number of available slots in the Raiders’ playmaking ranks has suddenly halved to just one. Country reps McCrone, starting at halfback, and Williams, wearing jersey No.14, believe the NSW Origin trial is another opportunity to prove to their Canberra coach that both are worthy of playing club football alongside their match-winning five-eighth.
Williams, off contract at the end of this season but hoping to secure his future “in the next few weeks”, in particular is feeling the pressure to perform in Coffs Harbour this weekend.
“Obviously ‘Campo’ came back last weekend and was really good for us and for his first hit-out in a fairly long time he was exceptional,” Williams tells NRL.com.
“I’ve got an opportunity this week to hopefully play well on a bigger stage and hopefully show ‘Furnsie’ [Raiders coach Dave Furner] what I can do.”
For Williams, pulling on the maroon and gold of Country is as much of an honour as it is an opportunity. Don’t try telling him this is a ‘meaningless’ representative game.
“It’s extremely exciting. To find out [Sunday] night… it was a bit of a shock but it’s certainly very exciting and a proud moment to be able to play for Country,” Williams, who plays cricket for Cooma in the off-season and has scored a first-grade century, says.
“Anyone who tries to convince me it ain’t worth it is going to have a hard time. The opportunity to play alongside these players and learn off them is a massive thing for me and I’m sure the other debutants are in the same boat as me. We’re really excited and proud to be out there.”
Raised just an hour south of the ACT, the Canberra halfback-turned-Country-super-sub is desperate to shore up his future at the Raiders, the only club he’s known since signing with them from the Cooma Colts as a teenager.
“I was born and raised in Cooma which is only a town of about 8000,” Williams says.
“I think [the appeal] is just the relaxed lifestyle you have down there and I guess it’s a little similar to Canberra, too. I enjoy that and always have, being brought up in that relaxed environment, and that’s a big part of being a country kid.
“I’ve been at the club since I was about 15 so it’s been really good to me and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Hopefully I can stay and we don’t have to worry about that but we’ll see how things pan out.
“It’s been really enjoyable but I’m sure my manager will be looking at the other options and just seeing what chances there are of anything else. Hopefully we can stay and hopefully we can work something out soon.”
Ironically, the man Williams is battling for a Raiders NRL spot alongside Campo has also been selected in the Country side. McCrone, who donned the Canberra No.6 jersey in their captain’s absence but shifted to dummy-half when Campese eventually took the field against the Warriors, believes the competition for spots in the Canberra line-up will prove a blessing in disguise for the duo from the Green Machine – and for Country this weekend.
“Yeah definitely, we’re [going to need to jostle for a position alongside Campo],” McCrone, who added Williams had been “killing it in recent weeks”, says.
“I had to spend some time at hooker the past week to get all three of us in there but I think we’re in a privileged position to have three first grade halves at the one club at the one time. If we can all be on the field at the one time, it’s going to be better for the team, I think.
“I think the [playmaking] positions are pretty similar these days, and the style we play in Canberra – we play left and right – I don’t think there’s too much difference. It’s just the number on your back.”
McCrone, tied to the Raiders until the end of 2014, understands the impact Campese’s return will have on both his and Williams’ progression at the Raiders – that’s why it’s a crucial game for the proud Temora boy, who grew up on a 2,500-acre property that farms sheep and wheat.
“It’s massive for me. I’m a really proud country boy and my family’s still on the farm so to get an opportunity to represent them is pretty important,” McCrone, a Temora Dragons junior, says.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure how ‘Baz’ [Country coach Trent Barrett] is going to use us but I reckon one of us is going to spend some time at hooker. I don’t know which way it’ll turn out or how the plan will unfold as yet – we haven’t nutted that out as yet.”
McCrone, who played in Country’s 24-22 loss at Mudgee last year, is particularly looking forward to this year’s clash of the City slickers and the boys from the bush.
“Mum and dad are coming up, which will be good,” McCrone says. “Dad was crook last year when the game was on, so I think he’s going to be pretty excited to get up here and have a look.
“I think she’s going to be a pretty tough affair and the talk the last couple of years is they’ve [City] come out and been faster than us, so we’re going to come out here determined to get a good start and not let them do that. We can do that, I’m pretty confident, and we can come away with the win.”