Jon Tuxworth September 10, 2012
Canberra Raiders Captains Run on Saturday at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Jay Cronan
CANBERRA Raiders coach David Furner has backed Sam Williams to withstand the physical intensity after he was cleared to return from injury for today's NRL elimination final against Cronulla.
The halfback missed last week's win over the Warriors in Auckland with a strained muscle in his left shoulder, but passed a searching examination at training yesterday.
Raiders fullback Josh Dugan is also set to start after missing the Warriors clash with an ankle injury, while forwards Joel Thompson (back) and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (hamstring) have been given the green light.
Williams' inclusion is a significant boost for the Raiders as they look to match Cronulla's halves pairing of Todd Carney and Jeff Robson at a packed Canberra Stadium.
Williams has been pivotal in helping the Raiders defy the odds by making the finals without chief playmaker Terry Campese.
Furner expects Cronulla's forward pack will test out Williams in defence, but said he wouldn't play the 21-year-old unless he was fully fit.
"He's fine and ticked all the boxes, he'll be ready to go," Furner said.
"He'll be able to handle it, I have no doubt. I think Sammy knows what's coming his way and previously before missing that [Warriors] game, he's defended quite well."
Williams' inclusion means Shaun Berrigan will return to the utility bench role he has filled for most of the year.
Canberra's halves were given a lesson in mounting pressure by Carney and Robson in the Sharks' 44-22 win at Canberra Stadium in round eight.
They put on a tactical kicking masterclass, forcing seven line dropouts and ensured the Raiders played under fatigue by making 127 extra tackles.
Canberra skipper David Shillington admitted Carney was afforded far too much space that day.
"I think possession must have been about 70-30 that day against us, they trapped us in goal about three or four times in the first 20 minutes," Shillington said.
"Any team, no matter how fit you are, is going to struggle under those conditions.
"We need that pressure on Carney [because] we played touch footy on him last time, we let him drift across field and do whatever he wanted.
"We'll do a good job in the forward pack, put pressure on Carney and that'll be our ticket to winning."
Shillington credited McCrone and Williams' improved patience as a major reason behind the Raiders' late-season resurgence.
"A big rap to the halves, last year when things were going wrong for us we changed the game plan and started doing our own thing," Shillington said.
"We'd try and create something out of nothing, but even if we had a slow start this year we'd stick to the game plan and it's worn out teams."
McCrone rates the Sharks defeat as one of the defining moments in his combination with Williams.
"That's a big focus point we've looked at, last time we played them [in Canberra] they built a lot of pressure on us, and Sammy and mine's kicking game was pretty poor," McCrone said.
"I think it's been a turning point for the team too. The simpler things we weren't too good at, we were trying to force stuff, and that's just a learning curve for young halves." ?