Raiders centre Jarrod Croker is disappointed he won't get a chance to play alongside Jeremy Hawkins this weekend. Photo: Jay Cronan
Canberra Raiders centre Jarrod Croker believes ''something has to happen'' to prevent the second-tier salary cap denying youngsters an opportunity after Jeremy Hawkins' NRL debut was blocked by the league this week.
Hawkins became the second Raider in as many years to have his chance at the big time ripped from him after the Raiders' application for an exemption was rejected by the NRL.
Canberra's second-tier salary cap has reached its limit, having already used five players from outside its top 25 squad this season.
Raiders winger Jeremy Hawkins was denied the chance to make his NRL debut this weekend.
Reece Robinson is favourite to win a recall and take the 21-year-old's spot on the wing against Gold Coast on Sunday. But after watching fellow Raider Mitch Cornish suffer the same disappointment last season, Croker has called for change.
Croker debuted at just 18 after starring in Canberra's 2008 under-20 premiership and has been a mainstay in the first grade side since.
The in-form 23-year-old has just returned from being in NSW camp for Origin III, drafted in by Blues coach Laurie Daley to get a taste of life in camp.
"There's obviously something that has to happen there, I guess,'' Croker said.
"It'd be devastating for Hawko; I really feel for him and it's happened to other players in the past.
"I was excited to see how he'd go and I'm sure he's upset, too, but he's a quality footballer and he'll get his opportunity down the track.
"It would be nice to see something where it doesn't come down to the situation we're in now, but until that happens there's not too much we can do.
"It's the rule and we have to live by it at the moment.''
Croker admitted it is a tough situation for highly-rated Raiders youngsters such as Jack Ahearn and Patrick Mago, who may have come into calculations for debuts.
"That's the thing you've got to look at. We've got kids playing reserve grade who probably could have got a chance, but won't be able to now,'' he said. "It's just a shame to see kids like that not get their opportunity.''
Having not played a second in the State of Origin series, Croker admitted to feeling awkward when dragged out by Blues players onto Suncorp Stadium to celebrate on Wednesday night.
But he said there was no lingering tension with Robbie Farah after the Wests Tigers skipper's mind games before his missed late kick during Canberra's loss at Campbelltown.
With the Raiders trailing by a point, Blues hooker Farah reminded Croker before the kick of a similar missed shot in a 2010 final between the two teams.
Coincidentally the pair roomed together in Brisbane before Origin III.
"He apologised straight after the game at Campbelltown,'' Croker said.
"I would have done the same thing if he was kicking a goal to win the game, too. It didn't bother me one bit.
"We actually roomed together for a few nights in Brisbane, too; it was all sweet.''
Like Raiders teammate Jack Wighton before Origin II, the in-form Croker was called into camp by Daley to get a taste of how things operate.
Croker plans on taking the lessons learnt back to the Raiders, starting against the Titans.
"It's good to know you're being looked at and you're thereabouts in the picture somewhere,'' Croker said.
"I'll take a bit of the intensity in training and talk back to my game, and improve that.''
Croker said he had witnessed a massive change in Wighton's confidence since returning from the Origin II camp.
"He's a pretty quiet kid and when he came back from game two, his talk was really good,'' Croker said.
"He was even speaking up at half-time [against the Tigers], telling people what to do and starting to grow more as a leader.
"It's just unfortunate he got injured [broken thumb], but hopefully he can keep that up.''
Croker described NSW's celebrations as low key on Wednesday night after a 32-8 loss, despite still claiming a first series win since 2005.
But he said the camp would give him a better sense of belonging if he's called up in the future.
"I think it [blooding players in camp] is a good move. If you go back onto that stage sometime down the track, you've got that bond and a few mates there already,'' Croker said.
"I wasn't going to go and get my photo with the shield or anything. I didn't even want to go on the field, but one of the boys dragged me on there. It was good to be a part of, but I'm definitely not claiming a series win by any means.''
NRL round 18: Gold Coast v Canberra Raiders at Cbus Super Stadium, 2pm
TV Time: Live on Fox Sports