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Junior Kiwis call-up surprises code-hopping Raider Roache

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After just two years playing rugby league, Canberra Raiders half Paul Roache is surprised to be representing his country so soon after his code hop.

The 19-year-old admits he's been amazed at how hard the switch from rugby union to rugby league has been, but credits former Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin and star hooker Josh Hodgson with helping him make the change.

Roache will fill the utility role on the bench for the Junior Kiwis in their international against the Junior Kangaroos at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, where he'll come up against fellow Raiders Nick Cotric and Emre Guler.

Young Raiders playmaker Paul Roache was surprised he got picked for the Junior Kiwis so soon after switching from rugby union.

Young Raiders playmaker Paul Roache was surprised he got picked for the Junior Kiwis so soon after switching from rugby union.Credit:Karleen Minney

He'll also play in front of friends and family, having grown up in Auckland.

Roache joined the Green Machine ahead of the 2017 season after playing for the New Zealand schoolboys side.

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The former flyhalf has played under-20s for the Raiders and Mounties since, filling a number of roles including fullback, hooker and in the halves.

It's that back-up hooker role he'll play on Saturday.

"I was surprised. I'm still new to the game. It's only my second full year of playing rugby league, coming from rugby," Roache said.

"It was a big shock for me, but I'm truly honoured to pull on a black jersey.

"I was fortunate enough to be selected in the schoolboys rugby team. It's exciting that I can do the same in a different code.

"It's a lot harder than I thought [switching], I thought it would be easier. I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm enjoying every minute of it."

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He sees his future as either a half or a hooker and has set his sights on making his NRL debut, following in the footsteps of his brother Nathaniel.

Nathaniel has played 20 NRL games for the New Zealand Warriors in the same role Roache will fill for the Junior Kiwis.

While it's vastly different compared to his upbringing as a rugby flyhalf, Roache was relishing the bash and crash of the middle.

He's had one of the best hookers in the world in Hodgson mentoring him during the transition.

"The ultimate goal is to get my debut, but for now I'm just focusing on having a good pre-season for the Raiders and learn as much as I can, and keep growing as a player," Roache said.

"This year I played multiple positions so hopefully I can cement one position and learn the game there."

The Junior Kiwis and Kangaroos will play the curtain raiser in a triple header that includes the Kiwi Ferns up against the Jillaroos and then the Kiwis and the Kangaroos to finish it off.

Roache was relishing the chance to go head-to-head against Cotric and Guler.

"I'm very excited, it's good to be home and play in front of family and friends. It's a great opportunity to pull on the black jersey," he said.

"I've never played against [Cotric and Guler] before. There'll be a bit of banter on the field and I'm looking forward to it.

"I reckon the Kiwis have got a good squad. We've got a good bunch of boys and good culture, and I reckon they're ready to rip in so hopefully we can knock them off."

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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