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Shane Shackleton still remembers his first ever grand final as one of the toughest, meanest contests he has ever played in.<br><br>It was played on a frighteningly cold Saturday morning, in muddy conditions, and our red-headed friend had to keep spraying water onto his near frostbitten hands to warm them up enough before he ran back into battle and took his next hit-up.<br><br>‘The Shack’ was five years old that day. Yep, he’s always been a tough individual.<br><br>“Oh mate, I’ll never forget that game, but it’s probably still as cold over here in Orange this week,” a cheery Shackleton said as he prepares for the biggest weekend of his career.<br><br>He’s come a long way since he was a chubby five-year-old trying his heart out at Redfern Oval, and on Friday night the 26-year-old will play his first representative game when he runs onto Wade Park in a City jersey of yellow with double blue Vs.<br><br>But he has the rare chance to double up should he back up for the Roosters on Monday night – against NSW coach Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne Storm.<br><br>“I didn’t even think of that!” Shackleton told Big League from Orange during the week.<br><br>“It looks like it is going to be a big weekend for me then.<br><br>“[Back-to-back wins] would be nice… I think I might just keep my mind on the job and my feet on the ground first!<br><br>“This whole week has been mind-blowing so far, so I’m doing my best to make sure I stay in the right frame of mind.<br><br>“When I found out I’d been picked for City, I was speechless for a day and a half, mate. It’s unreal. You always sort of hope that things like this will happen without getting your hopes up too much.<br><br>“This is the first time I’ve done it, so it is hard to know what to expect, but I’m rooming with ‘Ogre’ (Roosters team-mate Mark O’Meley) and he’s done it a few times, so he’s been giving me a few tips on how it is all going to happen.”<br><br>Shackleton recently passed a small personal milestone – his 50th first grade game.<br><br>It was a small, but symbolic, landmark in a career that has been punctuated by injuries and The Shack celebrated in typical workhorse fashion by claiming a starting spot and moving one step closer to a NSW Origin jersey.<br><br>The starting position was just reward for an outstanding season to date, which has seen him register more metres than any other Roosters forward. And there is more improvement to come.<br><br>“Definitely I can get better, no question – because the more footy you play, the more knowledge you get and you get smarter with the game,” he explains.<br><br>“And then confidence builds, more and more, so definitely the more I play, the more I’ve got to improve and offer the team.<br><br>“I’m not at my highest point yet, I’ve played City which is a massive thrill, but there are other teams above that so there’s definitely room for improvement.<br><br>“A lot of people like to say this (City-Country) game is a waste of time, but it’s not for me, I see it as a fair-dinkum trial and all of us guys here are treating it like that.<br><br>“You’d be foolish if you acted otherwise because there’s&nbsp; plenty of pride&nbsp; in the jersey and I’ll be doing my best to put my hand up (for NSW).<br><br>“I’m starting at the Roosters, which is a big achievement for me, within that pack that we’ve got, it’s a bit of a star-studded group of forwards, so to be among the top 17 of those guys is good, but to be starting has been unreal.<br><br>“The last few years haven’t been too lucky, but as long as I can play injury-free I’ll definitely put my best foot forward and it’s taken me here (to Orange) so far, so I’m happy with that.”<br><br>The injuries which Shackleton alludes to consist of a busted shoulder, which ended his year in 2006, and a disastrous bicep injury finished off 2008 before it even started. But Shackleton fought back and Craig Fitzgibbon believes we’re finally seeing the real Shane Shackleton now – the one who wouldn’t look out of place in sky blue.<br><br>“He’s just had his troubles with injury and whatnot, but this year he’s played basically every game and he’s stringing a bit of form together, so he’s definitely earned his spot (in the City squad),” ‘Fitzy’ raves.<br><br>“He just rips in. That’s the way he trains, that’s the way he plays – he’s a really important part of our club.<br><br>“Mate, he’ll go great on Friday – he’ll kill it for City I reckon, but hopefully not too much because I still want Country to win!<br><br>“There’s no denying that you need to be playing consistent footy to get to your best level, so yeah, I think there’s more to come from Shack and more to come from confidence, and hopefully he can put his hand up for higher honours one day.<br><br>“The thing about Shack is, he takes it all on the field… everything he’s got he puts it out there on the field. With time under his belt and more footy, there’s no reason he can’t get better.”<br><br>
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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