Rugby League


Rookie Canberra Raiders player Luke Bateman starstruck at Auckland Nines

Raiders young gun Luke Bateman was the odd man out among a room of NRL stars.

But on Saturday he will putting the autograph book away and sharing the field with some of his idols at the Auckland Nines.

Bateman is part of a youthful Raiders squad minus its big names and ranked as $41 outsiders to win the inaugural tournament.

The 18-year-old second-rower played in Canberra's first trial game against the Storm last weekend and is in his first season training with the club's NRL squad.

Bateman represented the Raiders at the launch of the Nines tournament in Sydney last month when the rest of Canberra's NRL squad were in camp at Coffs Harbour.

He shared the stage with the likes of NSW hooker Robbie Farah, Newcastle stalwart Willie Mason and Kangaroos great Brad Fittler, who announced his return to play for the Roosters.


''It was unreal, I was in awe,'' Bateman said.

''I was standing there next to them going, 'Can I grab an autograph?' I'm a bit worried getting stepped by [Warriors star] Shaun Johnson or getting run over by Konrad Hurrell, but hopefully I can handle it this weekend.''

The Raiders have a tough draw in the Nines. They take on the Warriors and the Cowboys on Saturday before rounding out their pool against the Sea Eagles on Sunday.

Bateman hails from the tiny country town of Miles, population 1500, 4½ hours west of Brisbane.

He came through the ranks with Souths Logan in Brisbane before moving to Canberra last year.

The Raiders will send players to the Magpies to play in the Queensland Cup this year. Bateman is one of those nominated, so he can gain vital experience.

''Ricky [Stuart, the coach] has talked to me, if I start playing Queensland Cup, about heading back there,'' Bateman said.

''The physicality and speed is similar to NRL. It will get me prepared for it more so than just playing 20s.''

The Raiders have been given little chance of taking out the Nines.

They will be without several key players, including Anthony Milford, Josh Papalii, Terry Campese, Jack Wighton and Shaun Fensom.

As Milford is staying at home, versatile outside back Reece Robinson gets a a chance to play in his favoured fullback role.

''If I get fullback [this year] I'll be happy, but I'm happy anywhere in the starting team,'' Robinson said.

''[I] enjoy that position the most because you get more ball.''