Branden McCrady is the fourth and final Parklander that'll suit up for Team Manitoba as the U18 Western Canadian Rugby Championships kick off on Thursday in Winnipeg.

The 18-year-old has been on the team for a couple years now, and he can't wait for this year's tournament.

"It's a pretty great opportunity for sure," said McCrady. "It's a very elite tournament, so it allows me to improve my game all the time. It's a great experience, and I can't wait for it to start."

When the team plays their first game on Thursday, Branden is pretty confident in the squad.

"We have a pretty good team this year, and probably the best I've ever played on," said McCrady. "We have a solid coaching staff and lineup... so, I'm hoping we can do pretty well."

This tournament will be Branden's third major one in the past three years ago. Two years ago he was on the team that went to the Canadian Rugby Championships in Toronto, and last year they went to Regina.

Can those experiences help not only Branden but the team this year? He sure thinks so.

"We all got the chance to learn things we didn't really know before because all of the competition was so good," said McCrady. "The past couple years, we were just trying to learn more and more every time... and we did that. Now, I think we're in a place that we can use all that experience to help us win games, and go far in this tournament."

Despite being somewhat of a veteran on the team, Branden knows his position on the field isn't guaranteed, and if he doesn't train hard... he'll be on the bench, and that's not what he wants.

"Just being a good athlete these days, doesn't really matter as much," said McCrady. "Because someone on the team is maybe not as good as an athlete, but they're working extra hard... and they're going to get better and play more. It's all about preparation, and showing why you deserve to play."

"I know I've been working hard, and preparing as much as I can," he added. "I've been tending to some injuries... nothing major, but injuries none the less. I'm hoping I can show off how hard I've been working, in a way that'll benefit the team."

Injuries are something that always comes with being an athlete, especially at the elite level. Unfortunately for most, the games must go on regardless, but Branden isn't letting his minor injuries stop him from getting at it.

"It's definitely difficult, but you have to learn to work with it and deal with it," said McCrady. "I've been healing, but I'm not as healthy as I was before the injury... but that's just a part of it. I can't make excuses. I know what I can do on the field, and I just have to get it done."

Being 18-years-old, post-secondary school isn't far for Branden, and if he wants to play rugby at the next level... he knows this is a great opportunity to show off to coaches around Western Canada, and the scouts that'll be in attendance.

"In games like this, it's kind of make or break," said McCrady. "You can either shine or hurt the team. I'm hoping I can get some ball handles, and maybe even make some game-saving tackles."

"It's pretty nerve-racking," said McCrady on trying to impress people. "I just have to be confident out there. If I worry about things, that's when things could go bad. It's just about going out there, setting a goal... and achieving that goal."

As noted before, Branden will join Brayden Tomchuk, Zane Brindle, and Logan Conrad to make up the Parkland connection on the team. 

"It's a great thing to be playing with them again," he added. "I've been playing with them for years, and we're all pretty good friends. It's great to have them on the team."

Branden hopes to get the chance to play rugby at the next level in the future, whether that be in Canada or the US.

AUDIO: Branden McCrady:

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