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Whitehead glad to remain a Raider as Starling soaks up expert advice

Elliott Whitehead is delighted to have extended his time at Canberra while Tom Starling feels lucky to soak up dummy-half tips from "two of the best nines to do it".

Set to return from a shoulder injury in Saturday's clash with the Knights, Whitehead is keen to "focus on my rugby" after inking a new deal on Wednesday to stay a Raider until the end of 2024.

Whitehead was already contracted for next season but the club moved quickly to tie down the 31-year-old Englishman.

By the second-rower's reckoning, a three-game break has been the longest casualty ward stint of his career. But the Canberra co-captain's time out was made easier by the team winning three on the trot.

Starling's role off the interchange bench - combining with starting hooker Josh Hodgson, who has accommodated the young talent by switching to a ball-playing lock role - was a key to their success.

"We're starting to practise a bit more throughout the week and getting a bit of rhythm towards it," 23-year-old Starling said of his blossoming partnership with Hodgson as they share the field.

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"I think for the first couple of weeks we were just sort of feeling it out to see how it worked out. We're starting to really click together."

With the mentorship of Hodgson and assistant coach Michael Ennis, Starling has a wealth of dummy-half knowledge to utilise.

"Hodgo's been massive. I said it all last year, when he went down [with a knee injury] he was helping me every week with what I needed to do week in, week out," Starling said.

"When I first came down here a couple of years ago, he saw that I was a dummy-half and he straight away started working with me, helping me out. He's been massive, Hodgo, and still is.

"Not just with footy stuff but how to be a leader and how to conduct yourself off the field and be a professional.

"I'm still sponging off him and learning everything I can off him. And of course Mick, he's cutting clips up and sending them to Sticky [Ricky Stuart] for me to look over and look forward to for the next game.

"He's texted me before every game and we have a chat about refocusing on what I need to do each week ... I've got two of the best nines to do it here so I'm learning a lot from them and I'm really lucky to have them to draw information from."

Meanwhile, Whitehead made no secret of the Raiders' mission to reach the top eight after storming back into contention.

They currently sit ninth and by beating Newcastle, who are a win behind in 11th, Canberra could essentially knock out a challenger.

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"We've played great over the last three weeks and we need to back up again, it's a big game against Newcastle and we want to push for the finals. This is a game that we need to win," Whitehead said.

The star forward's return after he "compressed some nerves and lost all my power in my left arm" will further boost a Raiders forward pack that has seemingly regained its resilient edge.

And they're ready for a slugfest against the Knights.

"They're a big side, so we're expecting them to try to come through us. But for us as a pack, we've made an agreement that we're not going to let that happen," Whitehead said.

"We'll have to stand up to them and hopefully come Saturday night we prove that we're the better pack on the night."

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