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Temora boy Martin relishing 'home' game at Wagga

The Raiders reside just two hours away from Wagga Wagga but there is one Panther that considers the NSW regional capital a virtual home game – Liam Martin.

Martin is from Temora, less than an hour away, so he expects the family clan to almost out-number the Raiders fans travelling down from Canberra for the round eight match at McDonalds Park.

"Well maybe not for mum," Martin told NRL.com.

"She's actually come up here every week doing the four-hour travel (from Temora to Sydney) to watch me play. She's been unreal – a very good mum.

"This will be a lot easier on her since it's a 40-minute drive to Wagga. We used to do it every weekend growing up and playing juniors.

"So it definitely does feel like home. All the boys from Temora tell me they're going to get across, which will be quite good. I noticed last year when the draw came out there was a game in Wagga and my eyes lit up a bit."

Raiders v Panthers - Round 8

Martin joined the Panthers' SG Ball squad in 2015, moved up into NYC in 2016 and reserve grade in 2017 – the year Panthers, coached by Garth Brennan, beat Wyong Roos 20-12 in the grand final.

But that was the one game Martin missed that season.

"Unfortunately I missed the grand final that year. I did my syndesmosis in my ankle the week before, which wasn't the best. It was a fairly horrendous time actually," he said.

"It's all healed now  - I'm back on track; it hasn't caused me any issues."

And it played no part in hindering his march towards first grade, which happened in the 2019 Telstra Premiership season, not long after his 22nd birthday.

"It has been quite a shock to the system coming into the NRL this year. It's a lot quicker than I anticipated and I'm just getting used to it.

"Hopefully a few more games and I'll be in my groove."

Coach Ivan Cleary pulled him aside to reinforce his faith.

"He talked to me in the pre-season and just told me to work hard and that he could see opportunities for me," Martin said.

"I just took that on board and I feel fortunate I did get that opportunity."

And what better forum to make your NRL debut than against three-time premiership winners Melbourne.

"In reserve grade I usually played second row but Ivan said get ready for both positions – that and the middle," he said.

Episode 8 – Wayne Bennett and Darius Boyd

"So I was in there fighting my hardest against some of the Storm big boys."

Now he has begun, he wants to keeping learning how to stay – and play – at the elite level.

"Pretty much I want to play consistent footy and try to cement my spot in that back row-lock kind of utility role there," Martin said.

"Hopefully I develop a few more skills as a player. I've really been looking up to Yeoie [Isaah Yeo] as he's a great forward and a good country boy too. He's a good role model.

"I also like playing with and watching James Fisher-Harris as he's such a work horse in that lock role. They are showing me what is needed."