The Canberra Raiders recently announced their squad for the 2020 Jersey Flegg Cup, and Goulburn Bulldogs Under 19s player Tom Croker said it was "surreal" to find his name on the list.
"It was a great feeling," Croker said. "[Playing in the Jersey Flegg was] always something I wanted to do."
The Jersey Flegg Cup is an Under 20s competition run by NSW Rugby League. It features 14 teams in total, 11 from NSW, along with the Raiders, Victorian Thunderbolts, and New Zealand Warriors.
Canberra's squad began training roughly two weeks ago, and the 17-year-old is looking to absorb as much as he can from the opportunity.
"[I just want to take away] experience really," Croker said.
"I'm obviously a pretty small fella, so hopefully I get a bit of experience and come away with a better footy mind."
Having played for the Goulburn Bulldogs in the Canberra Region Rugby League's Under 19s competition this year, Croker impressed at centre with his physical ability and tactical nous.
But the youngster believes his biggest strength is the attitude he brings to the team.
"I'd like to think I'm a good bloke to play with, pretty easygoing," Croker said.
"I like to help people out a bit. I'd like to think I'm a pretty good communicator."
The Bulldogs performed well throughout 2019. They finished second on the Under 19 ladder, and were unlucky to fall short against the Queanbeyan Blues in the grand final.
This year, Croker knows the knowledge he earns at the Jersey Flegg Cup will be a valuable addition to the team, and will hopefully take the Bulldogs one step further.
"I reckon it'll be pretty valuable actually, coming away from rep footy and putting that experience into local," he said.
Though he is no stranger to representative football, Croker knows he will need to work hard to make the step up.
"I've had a bit of experience playing Under 18s and Under 16s and stuff like that, but I think [Jersey Flegg will] be a bit more physical," he said.
Originally from Crookwell, Croker is currently living with his Canberra-based grandparents, which "makes everything so much easier."
From 1961 until 1998, the Jersey Flegg Cup ran as an Under 19s age-group competition which was played nine to 12 weeks early in the season.
In 1998, the age limit changed to under 20, and it was run in conjunction with the NRL season.
However, it was replaced in 2008 by the NRL-run National Youth Competition, which continued for ten years.
The Jersey Flegg Cup was reinstated in 2018, and the first premiers of the new competition were the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.
In this year's Jersey Flegg Cup, which wrapped up on September 29, the Raiders were defeated by the South Sydney Rabbitohs, 16-14.
But the experience will not go to waste, as six members from that Raiders side have been named in the 2020 squad.
The current squad will be reduced and finalised prior to the beginning of the season.
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