AMID the blazing carries and try-scoring exploits of some of his pack colleagues, Elliott Whitehead’s performance in England’s win against New Zealand may, at first glance, seem understated.
However, it could be argued the promising second-row who left home-town Bradford to hone his skills in the south of France and is now bound for Australia’s capital, came of age with his country on Sunday night.
Whitehead, 26, had debuted against the Kiwis in the final game of last year’s Four Nations in Dunedin, unable to have the necessary impact to prevent defeat.
He made his first start for England against France 10 days ago but the Catalans Dragons star, who joins Canberra Raiders on a two-year deal after this Test series against New Zealand, did little to suggest to coach Steve McNamara that his place should be nailed down.
However, he was involved in plenty of the key moments as England prospered 26-12 in the first Test at Hull’s KC Stadium on Sunday, their first win over the Kiwis – currently ranked the world’s No1 team – since 2011.
It was Whitehead’s surge and off-load that led to Josh Hodgson’s opening try and he made another half-break in the first half and came close to scoring only to be denied by a remarkable tackle from Jesse Bromwich,.
“It’s a good start to our Test series and now hopefully, we can follow that up next week and get another good result,” said the Yorkshireman ahead of Saturday’s second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium when England bid to secure a first major series win since 1946.
“It was a good test for us; we knew it’d be a lot different to last week against France and I think they showed that in the first half.
“New Zealand came out on top but we ground it out and got there in the end. We showed in the second half if we keep hold of the ball we can score some points.”
More impressively, however, McNamara’s side showed they can prevent them, too; New Zealand, the Four Nations champions, were kept scoreless from the 26th minute as England overcame a 10-0 deficit to dominate.
“That does take some doing, especially with them being rated the best in the world,” added Whitehead, who made his Super League debut under McNamara’s command with Bradford in 2009.
“To keep them scoreless for that length of time – 54 minutes – is good for us but we have to improve again for next week as we know it will be a different Test.
“They know a bit more about us now and we know some more about them so it will change a lot.
“I am enjoying it. Hopefully I can play a few more minutes next week but I think the interchanges are good with Brett (Ferres) coming on. He played well and, hopefully, can keep doing that.”
Huddersfield Giants back-row Ferres came on to score two tries, having grabbed a hat-trick in the previous week’s 84-4 demolition of France and, along with formidable props James Graham, Chris Hill and Tom Burgess, secured many of the headlines.
Is Whitehead sick of his colleague hogging all the limelight?
“I don’t mind as long as we get the result. That’s all that matters to me,” he added. “I’m happy to do the hard work and I’m not bothered about scoring, although I should have scored one myself…”
Whitehead scored 38 tries in 109 games with Bradford but took his game to a new level when moving to Catalans in April, 2013.
He thrived in Perpignan, contributing 18 tries from 28 games in 2014 to earn ‘Dream Team’ selection and a first England call.
Whitehead will join former Hull KR hooker Hodgson at Canberra next term and admits the prospect of facing elite opponents, as he did against the Kiwis, is one of the attractions.
“That’s why I’ve joined over there to come up against good opposition week in, week out,” admitted Whitehead.
“That’s no disrespect to Super League but I think a lot of people know it (NRL) is a lot closer than Super League at the moment.
“Super League’s heading the right way – don’t get me wrong – but the NRL every week is a tough competition. I can’t way to get over there and get involved.”
First, though, there has been some renewal of Bradford acquaintances in England colours.
Whitehead came through the Bulls academy with South Sydney prop Burgess and played alongside John Bateman, the second-row so impressive for Wigan who started at centre on Sunday after debuting versus France.
Furthermore, scrum-half Luke Gale, who left for Castleford Tigers after Bradford were relegated 12 months ago, is also in the England squad, highlighting the sheer amount of talent that has been on the Bulls books recently.
Does it ever make him wonder what could have been if the West Yorkshire club had not imploded due to its financial problems?
“Yes but it’s ‘what ifs?’ isn’t it,” admitted Whitehead. “There’s four of us here (England) and it’s good to see us all doing well, especially John and Tom.
“Hopefully, Luke might get a game and we can all play together again. There’s still good players there (Bradford) now that were there when I was and, hopefully, they will get back up next season.
“You never know, I might go back to Bradford one day. You never know.”