Before the Intrust Super Premiership NSW kicks off for another year, one thing is certain: there is no halves shortage at Mounties.
The departure of one-time Raiders halfback Lachlan Croker and journeyman Isaac John would have been cause for concern at the club, but the void was quickly filled; 2016 Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year Sam Williams returns for his third stint in the Raiders’ system, while existing half Henry Raiwalui turned plenty of heads performing for Fiji in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Throw in today’s signature of Tongan young gun Ata Hingano, and new Mounties coach Ryan Carr has a healthy surplus of playmakers.
“It’s always good to have the in-house competition, it’s only helpful for the club and helpful for the game,” Raiwalui tells NSWRL.com.au. “All the boys are just hoping to get the best first chance and hoping to grab it with both hands.
“(Williams) brings a lot to the table and I’m just trying to learn just the little things, the little fundamental keys, especially in the half position. It’s the head general role to get around the park so he’s definitely helping me out a lot.”
Williams, who has been tipped by some to trouble regular Raiders halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer for a starting position, is certain to take the no.7 jersey if playing for Mounties. It could leave Raiwalui and Hingano to fight for a place at five-eighth throughout the year.
Nine years of age separate the pair, but the Rugby League World Cup saw them forge similar paths; while Hingano played halfback for Tonga throughout the tournament, Raiwalui filled the same position for the Bati. With the two nations historically making the semi-finals – and Fiji beating heavyweights New Zealand to get there – it was an incredible experience for both no.7s.
“Unreal, the boys really got around it,” Raiwalui says. “Obviously playing in the World Cup on that stage … just to feel that professionalism, it was definitely something I’ll never forget.
“I learned a lot, not only playing with that calibre of players but also playing against some of those players. You learn so much about the game and just how to carry yourself and how your body becomes an asset.
“I’m really looking forward to taking that into this season.”
The 29-year-old is yet to crack the top grade but having partnered Jarryd Hayne when representing his homeland, he’ll hope that the experience can rub on him positively. It’s safe to expect a big year for Mounties and Raiwalui, who enters his second year at the club.
“All the boys are feeling pretty confident, it’s good we got two trial games out of the way,” Raiwalui adds. “It was good to get the cobwebs out, all the boys are just keen to touch the ball and run around and get some footy into us.
“For the last few trials we’ve just been trying to work on what we’re good at and trying to create our DNA, our identity for what we want to be known for. I think we’ll definitely achieve that.”
Time will tell what that DNA entails, with Raiwalui’s side to line up for their season opener against the St George Illawarra Dragons from 1pm on Saturday, 10 March.