George Williams on his teary Wigan Warriors exit, his NRL hopes - and his Grand Final vision
In his first interview since his Canberra move was confirmed, George Williams speaks candidly about his move, his hopes and his unfinished business with Wigan...
“This has been a while,” smiled George Williams, as he took his seat in the Wigan meeting room at Edge Hall Road yesterday.
Yes it has.
The Wigan marquee player, the England international, the Canberra capture has been off-limits to the media since his move to the NRL was reported in March.
But after his switch was finally confirmed last week – amid a hive of activity which included deals for Jackson Hastings and incumbent coach Adrian Lam – the candid, amiable 24-year-old is now free to field questions once again.
So, firstly, why has it taken so long for his widely-known move to Canberra to be confirmed?
“I don’t know, it may have been hiccups on the transfer fees between the two clubs but I was in the cold, I genuinely don’t know,” he said.
“I’m happy it’s finally out there and I don’t have to lie to people in the street!”
Although his move was an open-secret, he only addressed his Wigan team-mates and told them he was leaving last Monday.
“I thought I’d be okay but as soon as I started speaking it hit me at once and I got emotional,” he admitted. “I choked up telling the lads what they mean to me. I think that’s a good thing, it shows what it means to me.
“I’ve supported Wigan, I’ve been a ballboy, I’m lucky to play here and win quite a bit – it’s in my heart.
“I’m 100 per cent going to miss this place.”
The Raiders have paid an undisclosed transfer fee to buy-out the final year of Williams’ marquee contract with his hometown club.
He will become the fifth English player in the capital, joining former Warriors Ryan Sutton and John Bateman and his England team-mates Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead.
“They’re not just people I know, they’re good mates of mine,” said Williams
“I’ve known Sutty since we were 12-years-old, we played junior rugby together, I’ve been mates with John Bateman for a few years – he’s letting me live with him – and the two England lads, I genuinely get on well with.”
Test coach Wayne Bennett recently described Williams as being as good as anyone in the game on his day. Did the veteran super-coach try and lure him to Souths?
“No, but I did speak to him about going to the NRL. I get on well with Wayne and he was all for it,” said Williams. “He said, ‘Go and test yourself’. Canberra just fit, with my friends being there, and they’re a club building.
“Hopefully I can add something to that.”
Bateman and Sutton have both made an impact on the NRL, joining a list of English players to shine Down Under including the Burgess brothers and James Graham presently, and Gareth Ellis and Adrian Morley in the past.
But curiously, backs have struggled to make the same impact, while few halfbacks have left Super League to test themselves in Australia – current international Gareth Widdop emigrated as a child.
“I’m not sure why that is,” said Williams. “It’s not like I’ve seen a half go over and smash it and thought I’d have a go. I just wanted to go over there and test myself.
“I’ve been here since I was 12 and Wigan has been my life – and always will be a big part of it.
“It may not work out for me, but I’ll try my best. I back myself. I’m quiet but I’ll try and take it like a storm like Batty and Sutty have.
“I am excited – but I’ve got a few weeks left here.”
Throughout the 10-minute interview, Williams frequently moved the focus back to the present; he can not be accused of having one eye already on 2020.
He watched from the frontline as Bateman, Sutton and Sam Tomkins got the fairytale send-off last year and is determined to ensure he can help Wigan complete a remarkable recovery and defend their Super League title.
His form has mirrored the team’s, and he has started to show in recent weeks just why he is so highly, and widely, regarded.
“Waney always used to say to me that I finished the season better than I started – my final third of the season is better than the first third,” he said.
“In the last month we’ve progressed as a team and that’s benefited me.
“I don’t think anyone was playing particularly well at the start. Friday was a hiccup – I wasn’t very good, and I admit that, and a few senior players have.
“But we dust ourselves off and go again. We genuinely believe we can go on to win the Grand Final.
“Saints have been the benchmark and we didn’t perform, but it’s nice to know what they’ll bring and we need to match that, because we may come across them and we know what our standard needs to be at.”