NRL will have a ‘star’ in Wigan Warriors forward John Bateman

John Bateman bowed out of Wigan with a Grand Final win
John Bateman bowed out of Wigan with a Grand Final win

John Bateman has been tipped to become a “star” of the NRL - by a player in a perfect position to comment.

Elliott Whitehead is expected to start alongside Bateman in the England side which faces New Zealand on Saturday.

The 29-year-old has become a firm favourite at Canberra, the club where Bateman is heading for 2019.

English players have experienced contrasting fortunes in the NRL over the years but Whitehead has no doubts about how his good friend will get on, having spoken to him before he signed for the Raiders in mid-seaso.

“I think he’ll do really well in the NRL,” he said. “John’s one of those kids who makes sure he competes week in, week out.

“I don’t know what Ricky Stuart is thinking as there are three of us now who play back row, so whether he’s going to move one of us to loose forward I’m not sure.

“I spoke to him a few times and I thought that if he didn’t take the chance to go over either this year or next year, he might look back and regret it. Hopefully it works out for him but if it doesn’t he can always come home and say, ‘At least I’ve tried.’

“But I know what type of person he is and I’ve every faith that he’ll become a star out there.”

Whitehead took Bateman under his wing when they were at Bradford together, and will again help him settle in when he moves over, offering to put him up until he finds his own place.

“John will have to cook and clean and walk my dogs every day as well,” he smiled. “We’ll kick him out after three months once he finds his feet!

“I’ll take him around. A lot of people talk bad about Canberra but then fall in love with the place. Once you’ve lived there, then you can talk to me about Canberra. It’s what you make of it. I played in 38 degrees in my first game, so I hope John’s ready for it.”

Hooker Josh Hodgson is also at the Green Machine and Wigan’s Ryan Sutton will also be moving, taking their English contingent to four.

“Hopefully they’ll settle in as well as Josh and I did and be a success there,” said Whitehead, who warned the Wigan duo not to start using Aussie dialect!

“We all hammer each other when we come into England camp, if you say an Aussie word you get hammered,” he said. “Josh Hodgson talks a lot of Aussie now, he’s saying soccer instead of football – disgraceful. A lad from Hull doing that, it’s not good and I pick him up on it all the time.

“He also said his young kid was kicking a ‘footy’ around. I was like, ‘Oh a round ball?’ He goes, ‘Oh no, a rugby ball.’ John’s got to steer clear of that or else he’ll definitely get hammered both of me and the other England lads.”

He added: “It takes some getting used to, the heat is a major factor. It takes some long days to get your fitness levels up too. You go home and sleep and it feels like you train-sleep, train-sleep but it’s worth it in the end. Playing in the NRL is a real privilege, especially for a lad from Bradford who thought he’d never play professional rugby league.

“When Bradford got rid of me and I became an electrician at 18 I thought I wouldn’t make it. I did six months and didn’t finish my qualifications – Ryan Sutton (a trained electrician) can teach me how to finish my courses!”