Raiders' tough Poms epitomise team-first ethos
If you want a close-up look at the type of team-first culture Ricky Stuart is so big on cultivating at Canberra, look no further than the recent efforts of Canberra's two English Test stars who have been asked to play essentially out of position yet led the way in Saturday's impressive win over Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Recent suspensions to Josh Papalii and Sia Soliola have contributed to a bit of a reshuffle, with Stuart doing the best he can to fit players in to manage the balance of the side.
England hooker Josh Hodgson has spent time at lock – playing arguably like the more traditional, old-school No.13 who provided an extra ball-playing option rather than the current prevalence of essentially an extra prop.
Meanwhile Elliott Whitehead – who has performed admirably at five-eighth and centre over the past two seasons when called upon but prefers edge back row. However against Cronulla he was asked to play lock – the modern version – and racked up 169 metres and 29 tackles.
Speaking after his match-winning role back at No.9 in the 30-12 shut-down of the premiers on Saturday, Hodgson shrugged off his dual role of late.
"I'm always fine with that; 'Sticky' (Stuart) obviously knows I'm not a loose forward predominantly and it was just something that needed to happen for a couple of weeks," Hodgson said.
"When we lost 'Papa' and Sia so we needed somebody to start in the middle just to have that extra big fella on the bench so I'm happy to do whatever's best for the team.
"It was good to get back to starting at hooker [on Saturday] and really trying to steer the boys around and set the platform with the big fellas."
He agreed his approach to the No.13 jersey was somewhat of a blast from the past.
"I probably was a bit more like the old school, carrying it if I need to and the big boys need a breather but it was predominantly to get an extra pair of hands in there and add a bit of something different to our attack," he added.
Hodgson concurred with statements made a week prior by halfback Aidan Sezer, who said he had simplified things and got back to enjoying his footy, saying it wasn't just Sezer who had adopted that approach as the team got back on track.
"I know it was something Sez spoke about a couple of weeks ago in the media, he's just enjoying his footy again and not stressing too much about the little things and that's really flowed through what most of us are thinking as well," Hodgson said.
"I think we're getting there [as a team].
"It's been a funny old year, it's been a work in progress. The past four weeks we've really picked a system we want to work with and really stuck at that and simplified a few things.
"When you're struggling a little bit and not going as good as you want to be everything goes under the microscope and you tend to look too hard at certain things you don't really need to, and I think we've learned to relax a little bit and started enjoying it a bit more."
While the Raiders finals' hopes remain dim, their back-to-back wins keep those hopes alive; Hodgson said the team never lost belief they could make it.
"We've got some tough fixtures coming up and we know we need to probably win the majority of them," he said.
"If we can knock off as many wins as we can hopefully we get there. We always have the belief, we've really got a never say die attitude here, we'll always have that.
"Even when times are tough, we're not going to go and pat ourselves on the back and think we're the best team in the world and get carried away. We know we're still got a lot of work to do and a long way to go if we want to make the eight."
Of his club and national teammate Whitehead, Hodgson was effusive in his praise.
"I said to him he can't put a performance like that in the middle and expect to go back to the back row, you might be stuck there!" Hodgson laughed.
"I thought he was outstanding [against Cronulla], his work was phenomenal, he did a lot of minutes for us and did a real job when he needed to.
"He's a great player and one of those people that does a lot of the small thongs fans don't see and we all know what he does for our side and how important he is for us and he really put his hand up."