Kangaroos prop Aaron Woods has backed Wests Tigers teammate Matthew Lodge to bounce back from the tumultuous start to his first grade career and become a representative star of the future.
Lodge will line up for the Junior Kangaroos against the Junior Kiwis for the second time at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday, kicking off a three-game festival of football on the Gold Coast that will also witness the Pacific Test double-header.
Lodge will partner exciting Broncos prospect Joe Ofahengaue in the front row with the Junior Kanagroos team boasting eight players already with experience in the NRL, while Lamar Liolevave is the only Junior Kiwi to have made his top grade debut to date.
Having come through the under-20s system with Melbourne, Lodge made his NRL debut with the Tigers in Round 17 last year and in Round 24 was named to start alongside Woods and against experienced Bulldogs pair James Graham and Aiden Tolman.
But despite his obvious talents Lodge has found himself on the sidelines for indiscretions both on and off the field. Last year he was suspended for two matches for writing an offensive word on the strapping on his wrist during the Under-20s Origin game and in January he was arrested for an incident at a Kings Cross nightclub for which he was later fined and suspended by the Tigers.
Despite his misdemeanours, Woods insists Lodge is a young player eager to learn and has come to realise the error of his ways.
"He's just been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time but he's learning. He's pulled his head in a lot and he's just thankful that he can play rugby league," Woods said.
"I think he is going to be a really, really good player down the track. He's just a solid human and he's a footballer, you know? He knows the game, he loves rugby league, trains very hard so [I'm] really pumped for him.
"He always listens. He's a young kid that always asks everyone around the club, myself and 'Keithy' (Keith Galloway) where he can better his game so it's really good to see him make the Junior Kangaroos."
If anyone can appreciate a rapid rise into the spotlight it is Woods who was thrust into the Kangaroos front row at last year's Four Nations at just 23 years of age.
In a team of talented young Tigers, Woods is seen as the torchbearer and the player the others aspire to be.
Current Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens handed Woods his NRL debut at the Tigers just days after his 20th birthday but it was 12 months prior that he passed on to his young prop his greatest lesson.
Playing in Round 1 of the under-20s competition in 2010, Woods ripped the hamstring tendon almost off the bone and was forced to watch on as the likes of Andrew Fifita, Robert Lui and Simon Dwyer started to make their mark in the top grade.
"I was happy for mates who were playing in first grade at the time but I just wanted to be there with them," said Woods, who will play his fourth Test for the Kangaroos on Friday night.
"We were in the 20s grand final the year before and a lot of the guys made the step up to first grade and I was just sort of sitting back and there was nothing I can do because I wasn't able to play or anything.
"[Sheens] said that I had to learn how to look after my body, that I was a young guy and that I wasn't invincible.
"He tells you that a lot of kids have got the talent but they don't do the hard work that it takes off the field to get there. You've got to do a lot of rehab, a lot of icing, looking after the body, eating right and he showed me that way.
"I got injured when I was 18 and he said to me that it was probably the best thing for me. And it was. At the time I didn't think it was but after that I did know how to look after my body and I was really conscious of it after that."