Canberra back-rower Elliott Whitehead has admitted the Raiders' 2016 success has exceeded his expectations of his maiden NRL season.
Whitehead – who extended his Raiders contract in August to remain at the club until the end of the 2018 Telstra Premiership season – said he was loving life in Canberra despite his nearest and dearest back home being harsh critics of his destination.
"I lived on a beach in France for almost three years and never used it," the ex-Catalans star told NRL.com.
"When people say Canberra has no beaches I tell them that because it doesn't really bother me. I like it here and hopefully I can stay even longer after my next contract."
Whitehead's expectations for the Raiders were established purely from what he had been told by coach Ricky Stuart when he first signed with the club in April last year.
Having joined a club that had finished 10th in 2015, Whitehead didn't envision a top-two finish just 12 months on.
"I knew I was joining a good team when I spoke to Ricky and what he told me about the team and where he planned on taken it. I knew the future was bright here but to be honest I probably didn't expect us to finish second," Whitehead said.
"I thought we were a top-eight team but I suppose we deserve to be there with the results we have had. Nobody can say that we don't deserve to be here."
Fellow Raiders recruit Aidan Sezer said he was always confident Canberra could impress this season.
"I suppose you always expect [success]. At the start of the pre-season every team goes into a pre-season with an optimistic attitude and we were no different," Sezer told NRL.com.
"I've always anticipated for this club to go well and that was a big reason why I came here. I wanted to be a part of a good squad.
"A lot of people would say they didn't expect us to be here but there's plenty of belief in our squad and we want to keep progressing."
The Raiders play the Penrith Panthers in an elimination semi-final at GIO Stadium on Saturday night but you could forgive Whitehead for looking forward to October's Four Nations tournament.
With Wayne Bennett at the helm of England's squad for the first time, Whitehead recalled his first meeting with the Broncos coach at a team meeting in May.
"Wayne had a lot of good ideas. To be fair though when I've seen him speaking to the media in the past he seemed a bit moody," Whitehead said.
"But when we met up with him he had a good laugh with us.
"Everyone wants to play for their country," he added. "We have a really good England side at the moment and there's plenty of good back-rowers so hopefully I'll be there."
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