Brits Down Under: Widdop earns plaudits, Graham’s 400th game & Sutton returns to action

Zach Holland

It was a week of ups and downs for the British contingent in the NRL.

John Bateman

The first game of Sunday’s blockbuster double header saw Canberra take on Sydney in what proved to be an epic top four battle between two of the league’s most in-form teams. The Raiders may have lost 22-18 but all the positives were there as they pushed the Roosters all the way and Canberra are still legitimate contenders this season.

In a tough and gritty game, Bateman was once again pinnacle to the Green Machine’s efforts with 34 tackles and 89 metres to his name as well as setting up a try for Jordan Rapana in the 11th minute. The Raiders do need to start showing they can beat the teams around them on a consistent basis and they will have the opportunity once again to show their fighting mentality as they face Melbourne and Manly over the next couple of weeks.

Gareth Widdop

A big win over Gold Coast was thoroughly helped by the kicking accuracy and slick passing and build-up play of Widdop at stand-off. In a 40-28 victory over a poorly defensive Titans outfit, the 30-year-old stole the show and put up 12 points with the boot alongside setting up three of the Dragons’ seven tries. It was a performance all the more impressive when you take into account that it was Widdop’s third game back after missing four months of competition through injury.

Despite the big win, the top eight still remains severely out of reach as with five games to go, the Dragons sit on 16 points and five adrift of the top eight but Paul McGregor’s side can continue to finish the season strong and build up a good amount of confidence to see out the season.

Elliott Whitehead

In a hard fought affair, the Roosters may have snapped the Raiders’ five-game winning streak but proved they are still a force to be reckoned with as we edge closer to the NRL finals. The 29-year-old was as consistent as ever in the second-row, putting up 92 metres and 24 tackles.

As mentioned earlier, Canberra pushed the Chooks to the limit and even put themselves in a winning position after Whitehead’s 65th minute try brought them within a converted score to win the game but in the end, it proved to be the last points of the game as Ricky Stuart’s men came up just short. However, the Raiders still sit in third place with 28 points and have been one of the standout teams this year with a dominant forward pack led by the likes of Whitehead and Bateman in that fearsome back-row.

James Graham

In Graham’s 400th career game, the Dragons put forth a much needed won over Gold Coast this weekend. The veteran was able to lead from the front alongside his partner at prop, Paul Vaughan.

The 33-year-old capped off a great milestone by showing there was more than enough in the tank, wrapping up the tackles and metres as per usual, with a total of 31 tackles and 115 metres. It was a gritty win but was all the more important in terms of Paul McGregor’s men avoiding a wooden spoon season. Now, with four games remaining, the Dragons are now six points clear of Gold Coast at the bottom and have all but made sure they will not end the season in last place.

Ryan Sutton

The 24-year-old made his comeback from injury against the Roosters in somewhat limited fashion as he racked up 62 metres and 19 tackles in a losing effort to Trent Robinson’s men. It might not have been the most welcoming of returns to action but Sutton’s steady numbers showed he can look to pick up right where he left off and be a force on both sides of the ball. The former Wigan star’s name may not be mentioned in the same vain as Bateman’s this season, but the forward has more than accustomed to life within in the NRL and has been an integral member of that forward unit. Despite missing a few games, Sutton still has the sixth most tackles by a Canberra player with 427 and 1,260 metres to his name.

As the Raiders now reach a crucial point in their season with some big games coming up in the next couple of weeks, Sutton will have the chance to show he can still have a big influence in the back-row and give the GB selectors a headache and something to think about.

Josh Hodgson

The 30-year-old has been the prime catalyst for Canberra in recent weeks, being pivotal to Canberra’s efforts both offensively and defensively. The England international may not have been able to get the job done against the Roosters in terms of a win for his time but yet again, he was still the go-to man for Canberra as he made the most tackles for his team along while showcasing his attacking mindset and superb in-game kicking with two try assists. The star dummy half has now set up 13 tries this season, the 13th most in the entire league.

The next two fixtures for the Raiders probably stand as their biggest of the season as they take on the Storm and the Sea Eagles, two games which will have big implications in terms of where they finish on the ladder heading into NRL finals. However, even with the loss to the Roosters, the men in lime green have performed at the highest level in the last month and more than have the names to get the job done. Also, if Hodgson can continue to be at the level we have seen in recent weeks then they should have all the confidence.

Tom Burgess

Souths came into their enticing affair against Melbourne following a shock loss to top eight chasing Cronulla last week, with the Sharks putting six tries past a lacklustre Rabbitohs side. It did not prove to get any easier for Wayne Bennett’s side this week either as the Storm more than showed their Premiership winning mentality with a 26-16 win.

It may not have been the best defensively from Burgess as he only made eight tackles throughout the game, however, he was still able to show his hard running in the front-row with a 119-metre effort. The Bunnies now sit fourth on the ladder with 28 points and are level with Canberra and with only four games to go, they need to find that earlier season form if they want to keep within the top four race, especially with Manly now breathing down their necks in fifth as well. They have much more favourable run in though compared to Canberra as they face Canterbury, Brisbane and the Warriors over the next three weeks.

Kallum Watkins

A sorry Gold Coast side have all but consigned themselves to last place on the ladder after the loss to St George Illawarra over the weekend. Despite putting up five tries in a much better game from an attacking standpoint, the Titans could not find a way to deal with the Dragons as they conceded seven tries. It was not the biggest of showings from the 28-year-old as he made 55 metres and 13 tackles.

After three games for Gold Coast, Watkins is still searching for his first win down under and as his side are now on the end of a seven-game losing streak, that task looks to be proving more difficult as the weeks go by. However, if the loss over the Red V showed us anything then that is the Titans certainly have the players to make life difficult for their opponents but need to undoubtedly make huge changes defensively in attempt to plug up the flooding of points that have been put up against them in recent weeks.

Watch NRL and live stream every NRL game to keep up with how the Burgess boys, John Bateman, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead, James Graham and all the others are getting on Down Under.

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