Stuart mantra sticks with Lee

Talking down any compliments that have come his way over the pre-season, Raiders young gun Brenko Lee is hoping to let his football do the talking at this weekend's Auckland Nines.

With Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker especially singing Lee's praises, the 20-year-old Queenslander is keeping himself grounded ahead of the annual tournament.

A required stepping stone to stake a claim for a spot in Ricky Stuart's NRL team, Lee's focus remains on working towards a berth in the Raiders' squad for their trial against Newcastle in Orange in three week's time.

A goal certain to be fulfilled, the off-contract utility back is still looking at the bigger picture of the NRL with Stuart's advice upon the coach's arrival to the club last year proving a huge driving force. 

"On day dot when [Stuart] came to the club he said "hard work will get you anywhere, if you bust your gut you're basically picking yourself in the team", which I like about Sticky," Lee told NRL.com.

 "This was when he called me up when I was supposed to be training in the 20s and said he wanted me to train full-time.

"So going on the off-season break [at the end of last season] that was in the back of my head about training hard and keeping myself honest and keeping everyone honest I guess."

First stop though is Auckland, with the Raiders perhaps naming their strongest squad since the annual tournament was introduced in 2014.

"[The Nines is] a great chance to show my worth, 100 per cent," Lee said.

"I guess every game you play you have to put your best foot forward, and the Nines is one of those things where it's fun, but then again you're also pushing for selection leading into the season.

"I'm just doing my best and what I can to keep the competitive nature in the squad. The good thing is we have a lot of depth and a lot of people pushing for spots so as long as we keep each other honest then it's only going to make the team better."

Having played just six NRL games over the past two seasons, Lee also denied any frustration with the system and knowingly pointed out the players ahead of him.

"To get [to the NRL], you have to do the hard work so I'm trying to bust my gut to put my best foot forward in whatever I do. I've been here since I was 16 playing 20s, so I'm definitely happy here," Lee said 

"The club has done a lot for not only me but for my family so I have to repay them back by playing good footy. I'm still only 20 too so I'm just biding my time.

"There are a lot of boys within this squad who are ahead of me [in the pecking order] so I guess if I just put my head down and keep training hard, it makes it harder for Sticky to decide on who he goes with.

"If it's in first grade then that's a blessing, but if not I know I have to train hard. If I'm in that Round 1 team then that'll be a big boost for me, and all the hard work I've put in. I just want to play more first grade and see where it takes me."

This story first appeared on NRL.com