Jeremy Hawkins and Reece Robinson at a Raiders fan session on Thursday. Robinson is likely to replace Hawkins, who was blocked from making his NRL debut on Sunday because of the second tier salary cap, in Canberra's team to take on the Gold Coast. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Canberra Raiders prop Paul Vaughan witnessed the talent Jeremy Hawkins possesses as teammates in the club's under-20 team.
So Vaughan has no doubt the former Junior Kiwi international will get the chance to shine in the NRL after salary cap restrictions forced his debut to be delayed.
Hawkins was named on the wing for the Raiders in Sunday's match with the Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium, only for the Raiders to be denied an exemption to the club's second-tier salary cap.
The Raiders had reached the $440,000 limit when hooker Kurt Baptise, who with Hawkins is part of the club's extended first-grade squad, played in their most recent game against the Wests Tigers.
In rejecting the Raiders' application, the NRL decided there were players in the club's top 25 squad, most notably Reece Robinson, who were fit and available to play in the same position as Hawkins.
By coincidence, Hawkins and Robinson happened to be sitting next to each other on Thursday as they were signing autographs for Raiders fans at the club's holiday clinic.
While Robinson is the favourite to replace Hawkins, Matt Allwood and Bill Tupou are also in the mix.
Hawkins, 21, was chosen after an impressive four-try haul for the Raiders' NSW Cup affiliate Mounties last weekend.
Vaughan believes it is only a matter of time before Hawkins, who is signed with the Raiders until the end of next year, makes his NRL debut.
"Jeremy is another of the boys I've played juniors with back in the day and he's a really strong player,'' Vaughan said.
''It's upsetting that he's not playing this weekend, but I'm sure he'll have the opportunity down the track to play first grade.
''It is disappointing, but I'm sure he'll be in the lime green next year some time.''
It's the second time in as many seasons the Raiders have been unable to blood a young player because of the second-tier salary cap.
Last year, NSW Residents halfback Mitch Cornish was named to make his debut against the Cronulla Sharks in round 26, the final game of the season.
However, the NRL rejected the application because fellow half Sam Williams was available.
The NRL this season increased the second-tier salary cap from $375,000 to $440,000 in response to requests from most clubs.
The salary cap for a club's top 25 squad is $5.5 million.
Six players - Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Matt McIlwrick, Sam Mataora, Jake Foster, Mark Nicholls and Lagi Setu - in the top 25 squad have played just three games combined this season.
The Raiders have had four players from their extended NRL squad in the first-grade team - Allwood, Baptise, Kyle O'Donnell and Shannon Boyd - while Brenko Lee has also been promoted from the club's under-20s.
Boyd, 21, has been a regular in the side since making his NRL debut in round one and knows Hawkins isn't far off.
"He's a good player, he'll get his crack next year or whenever he can,'' Boyd said.
"It's a bit unlucky.
"It's what you work for, it's what you put all these years in for, so it's disappointing for him, but he'll get there.''