The Raiders Under 20’s NYC team will go up against the best this Saturday, kicking off their 2016 campaign against the reigning Holden Cup premiers, Penrith Panthers.

Raiders NYC Head Coach, Brett White, has been happy with the form the team has shown throughout pre-season and trial games.

 “The trial games were about having a look at a lot of players I hadn’t seen play before, which was about 2/3 of the squad. It was a good opportunity to look at those guys and give everyone in the squad a run,” White said.

“Unfortunately we had a couple of injuries in the trials, which wasn’t a great start. We have a larger squad than normal so we can call on some of those guys early on.

“I told the boys early on that the round one side would be picked on hard work throughout the pre-season. Hopefully that attitude follows through into the game.”

A number of the Raiders NYC squad were fortunate to have the opportunity to the train with the Raiders NRL team over the off-season. This included Chevi Ellis, Jack Williams and Kalani Going, who all played for the Raiders Auckland Nines team.

“Those guys were really lucky to be able to get that experience. We had quite a few guys who were able to go up and then to come back down. The enthusiasm they gained from being with the top squad, it really helped lift our training sessions when they came back down.”

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Lachlan Croker will lead the Raiders on Saturday, having signed a fully-fledged NRL contract late last year. After playing for the Raiders Auckland Nines team and also in the second-half of the Raiders NRL trial game, Croker will bring extra experience to the field on Saturday. The knowledge he has gained from training alongside and learning from Blake Austin, Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer will also prove invaluable.

The Panthers beat the Manly Sea Eagles 34-18 in last year’s Holden Cup grand final, cementing Penrith’s reputation as consistently having one of the best youth teams.

“Having a look at their trial last week, they had ten players who played in their grand final last year. They are certainly the benchmark before the season starts with having that much experience in their side," White said.

“For us we are really looking at only worrying about us and making sure we put what we did in pre-season into a game. We need to get that right and hopefully be competitive with the benchmark team.”

White is in his first season as head coach of the NYC team, having spent last season as assistant under David Hamilton.  

“Coaches continue to learn. My whole coaching career I will be continuing to learn and hoping to improve. This is just the start of it, so I expect lots of improvements to come.”

The Raiders v Panthers Holden Cup game starts at 10.40am on Saturday, with gates to GIO Stadium opening at 10.30am. Don’t miss out on seeing the Raiders stars of the future take on some of the best youth players in the country.

CLICK HERE to see the Raiders NYC team named for Saturday.