Magnificent Seven: Brits Prepare For Battle Down Under

John Bateman lifts lid on life in the NRL
12:11, 26 Sep 2019

When a Canberra Raiders side featuring four Englishmen reaches a play-off semi-final, you know it is a season to remember.

When that semi-final involves facing Sam, Tom and George Burgess in a South Sydney outfit coached by Great Britain boss Wayne Bennett, it really is the stuff of fairytales.

Yet that is exactly what we have got at a 25,000 sold-out GIO Stadium on Friday in what is being billed as a 'Battle of Britain'.

England forward John Bateman, whose late try clinched a dramatic win at Melbourne Storm in the previous round of the play-offs, has enjoyed an outstanding debut season at Canberra alongside fellow Englishmen Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton.

His 80-minute performances for Ricky Stuart’s men have catapulted him into contention for the coveted Dally M, awarded to the NRL's best player.

Looking ahead to Friday’s mouthwatering showdown, Bateman told The Sportsman: “To potentially have seven Englishmen all playing in one game of such magnitude in the NRL is fantastic and shows the talent we are producing back home.

“I didn’t get chance to play against Souths earlier season because of injury, so I’m pretty excited about this week.

“I'm good friends with the Burgess boys and spoke to Sam after Souths beat Manly last week; I congratulated him and said ‘see you next Friday’.

“Yes, it’s been a fantastic year personally but I’d give away any individual honours to win the next two games and lift that NRL trophy.

“Canberra as a city is absolutely buzzing and hopefully we can use that energy on the field on Friday night.”

Having seven Englishmen play a part would set a new record and is an intriguing sub-plot, but Bateman is a good story in his own right.

Told aged 15 he was to become a father, Bateman was inspired by daughter Millie's arrival and rapidly emerged as the best young prospect in Super League with hometown club Bradford.

He then spent five years at Wigan, winning two Super League titles before snubbing a host of NRL clubs, including Souths, to join the revolution at the Raiders at the end of last season.

“I always thought that if I had a decent pre-season then I would go pretty well,” reasons the Yorkshireman.

“That’s what I wanted to do and I’ve never really had a proper pre-season with playing internationals for England. But you get a good couple of months over here before the season starts and that allowed me to do some good running and weights.

“I’m pretty confident in my ability to play rugby but, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect to settle in as quickly as I did. 

“It’s a similar culture to Wigan where you need to be on top of your game at all times. We have players who were literally born to win and won’t accept anything else.”

Bateman, who will be joined at Canberra by England team-mate George Williams next season, has grown accustomed to being stopped in the street for autographs and pictures.

He compares the interest in rugby league in Australia to Premier League football in England, adding: “At times it can be a bit full-on, but it’s everywhere and everyone is always talking about the game and wanting to know what’s going on.

“When I first got here, I went out and no-one really recognised me.

“Now, though, I’m getting spotted in the street and being asked for my autograph and to have my picture taken with fans.

“I’m 29 hours from home on the other side of the world, so it’s pretty surreal. Even more so after we won at Melbourne, I’m getting stopped more and more.

“People in Canberra are really getting behind us, which is great. You just enjoy the ride don’t you?”

Regardless of whether Canberra reach their first final since 1994, Bateman’s star should continue to rise.

He will play under Bennett, winner of seven NRL titles during his legendary coaching career, for Great Britain during their forthcoming tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Sporting Calendar