Canberra Raiders debutant Jeremy Hawkins. Photo: Graham Tidy
Winger Jeremy Hawkins will become the fifth Canberra Raider to make his NRL debut this season as coach Ricky Stuart thrusts youngsters into the hot seat to build for the future.
And Raiders transition coach Brett Kimmorley says Brenko Lee will relish a chance at his preferred centre spot, branding the rising 18-year-old ''an absolute superstar''.
Hawkins gets his chance against Gold Coast Titans on Sunday after scoring four tries for NSW Cup side Mounties last week.
Lee, who played his first two NRL games on the wing, will move to right centre to deputise for the injured Jack Wighton, who may return as early as round 20 after successful surgery on a broken thumb.
Matt Allwood has been dropped and replaced on the other wing by Sami Sauiluma, who has recovered from an eye problem.
At 4-11 the Raiders are realistically out of finals contention and are now in a position to give young talent a taste of NRL and build toward 2015.
Hawkins, 21, joins Mitch Cornish, Shannon Boyd, Allwood and Lee as Raiders to make their NRL debuts this season.
Kimmorley has seen Hawkins play this year at Mounties through his role, designed to ensure promising juniors don't slip through the cracks between the lower grades and the NRL.
He said Hawkins has earned his spot, and it wasn't simply a case of throwing youngsters to the wolves.
"It's not just about giving guys an opportunity. You have to earn the right to be given that jersey and he's been going well,'' Kimmorley said.
"He has a great carry of the football and his strength is his running game. His confidence should be extremely high after last week's performance.
"It's a sign on the depth this club's got. A lot of those 20-year-old kids are starting to turn into first graders.''
Kimmorley reserved his highest praise for Lee who scored two tries in Canberra's loss to Wests Tigers, including an audacious chip and chase.
"I think Brenko's an absolute superstar; I've got massive raps on him,'' Kimmorley said.
"He's a wonderful kid and the try he scored against the Tigers shows the X-factor he does have.
"Brenko's got great athleticism and can beat players one on one. I think you'll see good things from both of them [Hawkins and Lee].
"You may get an error from them here or there, but they've got amazing talent and are a big part of the future.''
The Raiders will field arguably the NRL's youngest outside back line-up against the Gold Coast, with centre Jarrod Croker the elder statesman at just 24.
The players in the No. 1 to No. 5 spots have 178 NRL matches between them, and Croker owns 131 of those.
Canberra's second-tier salary cap may be reaching breaking point with Hawkins the fifth player to play NRL from outside the top 25 squad.
The issue prevented the Raiders from handing Cornish a debut in last year's final round, before he got his chance this season.
"You'd love to have progression planning and guys to have a taste of it, but it's a bit complicated sometimes in our game,'' Kimmorley said.
"There's an unfortunate thing called a salary cap, which may prevent us from doing that.''
NRL Round 18: Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders at Cbus Super Stadium, 2pm
TV: Live on Fox Sports 1