Rugby League

Canberra Raiders rookie Lachlan Croker thrust into Auckland Nines

He's been catapulted from school to top grade at the Auckland Nines, but Canberra Raiders teenage halfback Lachlan Croker says he's prepared to be patient for his NRL opportunity.

Croker was two years from being born when Ken Nagas won a premiership with the Raiders in 1994, but the 18-year-old rookie and 41-year-old retiree will play for Canberra at this month's Auckland Nines.

New captain Jarrod Croker leads a raw Raiders squad to the tournament, with Canberra choosing to rest the bulk of their big names. But Sam Williams, Mitch Cornish and Josh McCrone have all been selected, beginning their fight for the halfback role to partner five-eighth recruit Blake Austin.

While Lachlan Croker isn't yet in the frame for NRL selection, it's a measure of the his ability that he will be blooded at the Nines.

Contracted until the end of 2017, Croker is the nephew of Jason "Toots" Croker, the games-record holder for the Raiders and a teammate of Nagas in the 1994 premiership win.

"Me and dad went to every game Toots played, we'd be sitting out there in the freezing cold or rain with rugs over us watching him," Croker said. "I grew up with the club because Toots had players over all the time. I remember seeing players like Kenny as a little fella, so to be playing next to him is unreal."

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Croker graduated from Goulburn's Trinity College last year and fellow Goulburn junior Mitch Cornish has taken him under his wing in his first NRL pre-season.

While he has added six kilograms of muscle to his frame this pre-season, now 86 kilograms, Cornish and Raiders coach Ricky Stuart have advised the NSW Under 18 representative to be patient with his development. Cornish, 21, had the same advice from Stuart last year, before debuting and then starting in the final three games.

"Mitch has sort of taken me under his wing, because he's been through it all before," Croker said.

"Mitch backed up what Ricky did for him last year, he obviously didn't play a lot of games when people thought he should have. But Rick's plan was to slowly blood him and he agreed with that 100 per cent.

"I've been talking to Rick and there's no rush. You look at yourself and see where you're going and how close you are, but you don't want to get thrown in the deep end when you're not ready.

"You have to stay patient, there's going to be a lot of knockbacks and I expect that. With Blake, Mitch and Sammy in front of me I'm not expecting anything this year, I'm just happy to be training with them and learning from them."

Raiders assistant coach Dean Pay said Croker would be "a big part of our future", but admitted an NRL debut was not yet on the horizon.

"It depends how he goes, he's a long way from it at the moment, we've still got Sam, Blake and Mitch Cornish that have had a number of games there now so we'll be looking for them to play really well," Pay said.

Melbourne Storm's leading try-scorer from last year, Sisa Waqa, will make his debut for the club at the Nines, beginning on January 31, but the Raiders have left out recruits Austin, Josh Hodgson, Sia Soliola and Frank-Paul Nu'uausala.

Key NRL players such as Jack Wighton, Edrick Lee, Paul Vaughan, Josh Papalii and Dane Tilse will be rested, while David Shillington and Shaun Fensom are unavailable because of injury.

Raiders' Auckland Nines squad: 1. Sam Williams 2. Mitch Cornish 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Lachlan Croker 5. Sisa Waqa 6. Joel Edwards 7. Josh McCrone 8. Rhys Kennedy 9. Glen Buttriss 10. Brenko Lee 11. Bill Tupou 12. Jack Ahearn 13. Luke Bateman 14. Haydon Hodge 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Kyle O'Donnell 17. Tevita Pangai jnr 18. Ken Nagas

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