The Canberra Raiders under 20s side for 2013. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Turning untapped potential into NRL gold is the challenge facing Ricky Stuart in building his Canberra Raiders revolution.
For all the drama and turmoil surrounding the top squad in the past 12 months, the strength of the Raiders remains the enormous talent in the club's junior ranks.
The next generation of the Raiders will be on show in Sunday's qualifying final of the National Youth Competition against the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium. The Raiders claimed the minor premiership and are chasing the club's first under-20s title since the competition's inaugural season in 2008.
But as the Raiders have found out the hard way, turning that potential into the core of the first-grade side is easier said than done.
Two-time player of the year Shaun Fensom and 100-gamer Jarrod Croker are the only two players from the premiership-winning under-20s team from five years ago to play regularly for the NRL side.
Forward Jarrad Kennedy has played just six games in the past two seasons, but is signed until the end of 2015.
Sacked NSW fullback Josh Dugan and winger Daniel Vidot are at the Dragons, while second-rower Joel Thompson will be joining them in Wollongong next year.
Drury Low (Bulldogs), Travis Waddell (Knights), Nick Skinner (Manly) and Justin Carney (England) all had limited stints at the Raiders before moving on.
In contrast, the Brisbane Broncos have developed New Zealand internationals Josh Hoffman and Alex Glenn, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire and Ben Hunt from the 2008 grand final team that lost to the Raiders.
Making the step up from the under-age divisions to the NRL remains the biggest challenge for clubs, Raiders recruitment and high performance manager David Hamilton said.
''You can't have all youth, you've got to have some experience,'' Hamilton said.
''I believe you need a continous three years doing an NRL pre-season to jump up, that's when a player knows where he's at.
''You can't keep everybody, it's impossible.''
The Raiders have already lost one of their present crop of under-20s stars, outstanding winger Jonathon Reuben has signed a two-year deal with the Sydney Roosters.
Reuben is the competition's equal leading try-scorer with 24 tries, but decided to leave the Raiders given their depth in outside backs.
''He believed he couldn't see a pathway ahead of him here,'' Hamilton said.
''I wouldn't begrudge him of an opportunity, he's a great kid.''
Mitch Cornish, Jack Ahearn, Brenko Lee and Andrew Heffernan are four of the brightest prospects in the Raiders' under-20s team. Cornish and Ahearn made the NYC team of the year and are signed for another two years, Lee is the younger cousin of NRL winger Edrick Lee and Heffernan is an exciting 18-year-old five-eighth/fullback/centre from Junee, the same town that produced Raiders legend Laurie Daley.
''There's definitely some good kids in there that can take the next step up,'' Hamilton said.
''We have to make sure we keep these kids.
''It's frustrating when we lose them when we do all the hard work.''