The Canberra Raiders have to replace 251 kilograms worth of front-rowers next year but outgoing prop Junior Paulo says blooding a star on the rise like Emre Guler creates plenty of room for optimism.
The Raiders will have one of the smallest player turnovers in club history going into next season with the bulk of the squad already locked in for at least another season at the Green Machine.
Gone from the first choice 17 will be Paulo (to Parramatta), Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast) and Blake Austin (Warrington), while Charlie Gubb has already joined the Widnes Vikings in the Super League.
English stars John Bateman and Ryan Sutton will link up with a Raiders outfit set to retain the bulk of its top-line players, including youngsters Guler (contracted until the end of 2019 with talks underway to extend the deal) and Jack Murchie (end of 2020).
While Paulo is heading for the exit, he wants to use his final outing in lime green to help lay the foundations for Canberra's future when the Raiders face the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday night.
"That’s what we’ve been really trying to build on during this back end of the year," Paulo said as he prepares to return to the Parramatta Eels on a lucrative four-year deal.
"With where we are sitting on the ladder, obviously we couldn’t make the finals but it was more so a building stage for the young fellas that are coming through.
"We’ve had some good debutants this year, Jack Murchie got a chance, and especially Emre Guler, who has really established himself within the group. We know where he stands in the group and it’s definitely something to build towards for next year for the playing group."
Paulo will be in Parramatta as Guler looks to establish himself as an NRL player, leaving Dunamis Lui to play the role of a mentor for the 20-year-old rising star.
Lui has signed a three-year contract extension with the Green Machine having played every game for the Raiders this season, with 10 of his past 12 outings coming in the starting side.
Injuries and form had already limited Lui's NRL experience since he made his debut for the Brisbane Broncos in 2010, and an anterior cruciate ligament tear last year threatened to halt his career again.
But the 28-year-old has battled back to emerge as a key cog in Canberra's pack and now he has set his sights on showing the Raiders' young guns the way forward.
"I’ve been thinking about it over the past few weeks, especially when I started having those games starting at No. 8," Lui said.
"To be honest I’m just happy to be out there and to have had the season that I’ve been having so far, I’m blessed. For this last game, it’s a good platform for next year.
"We’ve got one more game again next week. There’s nothing to lose now so I think all the boys will go out there to have fun and try to play for each other.
"From the last few weeks, as soon as we found out we weren’t in the eight, all we could do is play for each other and try and set us up for next year, and I think we’ve done that."
Paulo admits "the bottom lip has been a bit shaky" as he prepares for his Raiders farewell, and his teammates sent him off in style in front of a home crowd last week. Now Lui wants to do the same across the ditch.
"We spoke about it all week about the boys leaving and what this game meant to them," Lui said.
"It was really good to do it for the boys that are leaving next year, and also we’ve got some staff that are leaving as well. To be able to do it for them, it’s a really special moment for them and hopefully we can get the win next week as well."
NRL ROUND 25
Friday: New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium, 6pm AEST. TV: Live on Fox League.