Elliott Whitehead drops further hint about Canberra Raiders future as he prepares for ninth NRL season

James Gordon
Canberra Raiders badge, Elliott Whitehead

Canberra Raiders captain Elliott Whitehead is expected to hang up his boots at the end of the 2024 season - Alamy

Elliott Whitehead is preparing for what is expected to be his ninth and last season in the NRL as captain of Canberra Raiders.

Whitehead, 34, has been handed the captaincy by head coach Ricky Stuart following the retirement of Jarrod Croker, and his contract is up at the end of the year.

Speaking to media ahead of the Raiders’ first trial game in a fortnight, Whitehead joked: “I’m looking forward to getting on the field and looking back on the pre-season.

“Hopefully I might not have to do one again!”

Although he has already said that 2024 will likely be his last for Canberra, his playing retirement isn’t officially confirmed as yet – though Whitehead has previously revealed talks with Stuart about moving in to a coaching role with the Raiders.

In the build-up to his 27th and final England game last autumn, he told the Yorkshire Post: “I have kind of got something sorted with Canberra. Hopefully I will go into coaching.

“I’m not too sure what that role will be yet. I will sit down with Ricky (Stuart) towards the back end of the season and go through that with him, but I will definitely be staying in rugby league somewhere and most likely at Canberra Raiders.

“I have still got another year at the Raiders and I’ll be trying my best to win the premiership. That’s my goal going into next year and hopefully I can finish on a high.”

Elliott Whitehead sings praises of Canberra Raiders ‘exciting’ youngsters with club in transition

Whitehead has been an understated success story as an Englishman in the NRL, first arriving from Catalans Dragons ahead of the 2016 season.

Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton, Elliott Whitehead
Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton, Elliott Whitehead (far right) pictured after Canberra Raiders’ defeat to the New Zealand Warriors in June 2023 – Alamy

He played in the 2019 Grand Final and will likely pass through 200 games in the NRL before the end of the upcoming 2024 campaign.

The Raiders start the new season on March 7 against Newcastle Knights, but before that they will face trial games against Parramatta Eels in Sydney and North Queensland Cowboys at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan.

Whitehead added: “It’s been a really good (pre-season). It’s been tough. They don’t get any easier when you get older and all that.

“There’s been a lot of young kids that have been impressive. Ethan Strange has really stood out. It’s exciting. We’ve got a lot of young potential here, so hopefully they’ll play their part this year.”

Canberra have reached the play-offs in five of the eight seasons that Whitehead has been Down Under so far, though they have only managed to squeeze in eighth place in the past two seasons.

They aren’t fancied to do well this season either, ranked 15th in the odds to make the play-offs.

Coach Ricky Stuart had previously acknowledged the club is entering a transitional phase with the departure of several long-serving players.

Back in October, he told The Canberra Times: “Over the next 12 months, we’re going to be transitioning into a new era.

“We’ll be losing 1000 games of NRL experience with Jarrod (Croker) and Jack (Wighton) leaving this year, Elliott and Jordan (Rapana) being their last season in 2024.”

Whitehead will be sole club captain in 2024, having previously shared the role with the now-retired Croker. Jamal Fogarty, the former Gold Coast Titans half-back, has been named as vice-captain.

Whitehead bowed out of the international game on a high with baton passed on to nation’s rising stars

Bradford-born Whitehead has 31 international caps overall, including four for Great Britain, and officially announced his international retirement ahead of England’s last test series game against Tonga in 2023.

The 34-year-old would go on to score a second half try to round his international playing days off in style at Headingley, denied a second only by the video referee on the day.

There’s a distinct parallel between his impending retirement at club level and the one he’s already made on the international scene, admitting the time is right for him to pass the baton onto the younger England stars upon hanging up his boots.

Elliott Whitehead, England
Elliott Whitehead crosses for a try on his final appearance for England – Alamy

Speaking when making the announcement at the back end of last year, Whitehead said: “It has been a privilege to wear the England shirt as many times as I have – it’s the highest honour you can get.

“I have had some really enjoyable moments representing my country, and some not so enjoyable, but overall, I am really happy and proud of what I have accomplished on the international stage.

“However, with some fantastic young English players coming through, now feels like the right time for me to step aside and let them take their opportunity.”

“I had considered international retirement last year (2022), but I didn’t want to go out on the World Cup semi-final defeat (to Samoa), but now I get to finish my England career with a series victory.”

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