Raiders youngster Mitch Cornish. Photo: Colleen Petch
The Canberra Raiders are optimistic of re-signing promising juniors Jack Ahearn and Jeremy Hawkins before the finals, but are set to lose exciting winger Jonathon Reuben to the Sydney Roosters next season.
While Canberra's juniors are the jewel that will attract Canberra's next NRL coach, choosing the best of the junior crop will be a key to the new coach's success or failure.
Reuben, Ahearn and halfback Mitch Cornish were named in the Under 20s team of the year on Tuesday, from a Raiders outfit that leads the competition by four points and is shooting for a second successive grand final.
Raiders under-20s player Jack Ahearn.
While the Raiders continue to be pace-setters in the juniors, that success has not translated into NRL results over the past five seasons. Of the squad that won the inaugural 2008 Under 20s competition, and should now be hitting the prime of their careers, only three players will remain in green in 2014 - Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom and Jarrad Kennedy.
Joel Thompson will defect to the Dragons next season and Mick Picker will retire with a chronic hip injury, joining Josh Dugan, Travis Waddell, Drury Low, Daniel Vidot and Justin Carney as other NRL players from the 2008 premiership to have left the club.
Countering that, Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton, Anthony Milford and Edrick Lee have emerged from the Raiders' Under 20s ranks in recent seasons to establish themselves in the NRL.
Raiders coach Mick Mantelli, also named Under 20s coach of the year, said making the most of Canberra's production line of juniors would be a key component in success for the club's next NRL coach.
''If you look at the talent that comes through the place and the talent that's gone out of the place that could have stayed here, it's a great squad and it's going to be a great squad for the years to come.''
Mantelli admitted no coaching positions at the Raiders could be guaranteed for next season until the club appoints a new head coach, who in turn selects support staff. ''I'd say everyone here who's on contract would be under review,'' Mantelli said. ''We can't control who the club's going to employ … we've been told just to do our job, everything's going as normal.
''I'm just concentrating on finishing this season, we've had a good year, we want to finish it off … we want to be the premiers.''
Ahearn, a fullback, and Hawkins, a winger, are on the cusp of NRL selection and the club hopes to announce new deals soon.
The Raiders have also been in talks with Reuben, but it's understood the 20-year-old try-scoring machine will join the Roosters.