Canberra halfback Sam Williams was on hand in Wagga Wagga to launch ticket sales for the NRL game in the city between the Raiders and the Melbourne Storm on 9 April.
The game is the Raiders’ third in Wagga Wagga in four years, and there are high hopes it will be played in front of a capacity crowd. The 2020 match was called off because of the pandemic, and last year’s game was played in front of limited fans also due to COVID.
Growing up in Cooma, Williams knows the impact the NRL coming to town can have on a community. It goes well beyond the enjoyment of watching the game live.
“It’s massive,” says Williams, “I remember every time a Raiders player came to Cooma.
“I remember their names and followed them through their careers because of that connection. I remember Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart coming to town and the impact it had on me. When you see them up close and personal, you remember it forever, and it inspires you to try to emulate them on the field.”
The Raiders are confident that interaction with the Wagga community is paying off. They have invested heavily in developing a relationship with the city, moving one of their home games each season for the past four years from Canberra Stadium.
CEO Don Furner says it’s an important area for the Raiders.
“The past few years have been tough and we’ve adapted to the challenges, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to bringing one of our games to Wagga.”
Williams says the Raiders are already making an impact in the city.
“Last year when we came here, I couldn’t believe the number of people wearing Raiders caps. And the development officers out here are very complimentary of the work being done by the Raiders.”
For Wagga Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout, 9 April is more than just rugby league, it’s an opportunity to showcase the city with the NRL the focal point.
“The regional game has developed into one of the most anticipated events on our calendar in recent years, which is fantastic for local residents and also the broader Riverina community who love to support the Raiders in Wagga Wagga.”
The hope is that NRL fans travelling to the game will make a weekend of it in Wagga, with the Fusion22 Multicultural Festival taking place on the night of the afternoon game.
As to his aspirations of playing in the game, Sam Williams concedes the arrival of Jamal Fogarty from the Titans presents a major challenge.
“Jamal has been a really good signing,” says Williams.
“For me, it’s important to remain positive whether I’m in reserve grade, 18th man for first grade, or playing in the NRL team. It’s a patience game.”
As to speculation that this could be his last season in the NRL, Sam is philosophical.
“It’s tough physically. If it’s my last season, I want to give myself every chance of succeeding. If I play well, there could potentially be another deal.”