Brenko Lee taking his opportunities
It was the moment that hauled the Raiders back into their match against the Newcastle Knights. Falling over the touchline, with three Newcastle defenders all over him, Jordan Rapana popped a hopeful pass for a teammate, any teammate.
That teammate, as it turned out, was Brenko Lee, making his first start for 2016. The centre made no mistake, collecting the pass and planting the ball down to bring the Raiders within two points of the Knights, with a Jarrod Croker conversion tying the game that would ultimately end 24-all.
After playing in only two first grade games in 2015 – the last two games of the season – and a mere four in 2014, Lee was called into the starting side to face the Knights following the suspension to Joey Leilua.
The performance against the Knights was a good showing from Lee, who said he’s not looking too far ahead, but he knows what an important opportunity he’s been handed by coach Ricky Stuart.
“I’ve got to take it with two hands – it’s unlucky for him (Leilua) to get suspended, but the opportunity opens and I’ve got to take it,” Lee said.
“Opportunities like this don’t open up all the time, and you have to take them when you can.
"I know I’ve got to keep working to get better. That’s what Ricky asks of all the boys – that everyone gets better every session, that’s all you can do.”
Lee knows he needs to impress – with competition for places in the Raiders backline fierce, and Leilua raring to get back into the side once he’s served his suspension.
“When he (Leilua) was at Newcastle, he was one of the guys I really respected as a footy player, he can be really dominant in that centre position,” Lee said.
“When he came here it also made me get better, just competing with him.
“The two of us are always competing with each other, always trying to be better, but that’s the nature of the game.
“Off the field we’re very good mates, and on the field always we’re competing to make the team better.”
Despite coming away with only a draw, Lee said it was still an impressive performance from the team playing away at Newcastle.
“Going up there and getting a draw against Newcastle, especially being their first home game for 2016 and (Jarrod) Mullen’s 200th game, they want to come out hard, so for us to take one point out of the game was very important to us,” Lee said.
The Raiders fielded a makeshift halves pairing of Elliott Whitehead and Sam Williams against the Knights, and while Lee said the pair played well, it did take some getting used to.
“It was a bit weird at first because I’ve known Elliott as a very, very good back rower, and for him to play in the halves was a bit different – he did a really good job too,” Lee said.
“That’s the thing with Elliott, he can play anywhere and he’ll do the job for you, so I was going into the game comfortable that he’d do well for us. As long as I do my job for him, he’ll do his job for me.”
Lee said it was good to finally share the field in Canberra green with his cousin, winger Edrick Lee, and that he’s looking forward to doing so again at home this weekend.
“It’ll be really good to run out in front of the home fans in Raiders colours, especially against the Titans – a team from Queensland,” Lee said.
“I love beating teams from Queensland – they’re the teams you want to play up for and do your best.”
CLICK HERE to watch highlights from the Raiders draw with the Knights.