Two weeks is all it took for the CRRL Cup to turn into survival of the fittest.
Injuries and small squad numbers threaten to derail the premiership ambitions of the four clubs hunting for Canberra rugby league's crown.
But the Canberra Raiders under 20s have stamped their title credentials with a 38-12 win over the Queanbeyan Blues at Seiffert Oval on Saturday.
The Blues held a two-point advantage at half-time before they were walking wounded when referee Andrew Nightingale blew full-time with Terry Campese (groin), Bradley Buckley and Reeion Murray (both head knocks) failing to see out the game.
But that's not to say the Raiders, who have joined the competition after the NSWRL scrapped the Jersey Flegg Cup in 2020, are sailing smoothly after Jordie Williams was carried off with a hamstring problem.
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Coach Ash Barnes says his staff have been in overdrive to ensure they have enough fit troops with just 18 players available at the moment after Tom Croker was drafted in.
"Unfortunately we've got a couple of guys who have long-term injuries and won't play this year so they're doing their rehabilitation with us," Barnes said.
"On the flipside of that, we've got a great opportunity for eight of our players to go up into the NRL bubble, so they're getting week to week NRL exposure which is just fantastic for them.
"We're in [training] on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We're trying to mimic as much as we can how we would do it if it were a Flegg season.
"We're trying to get these guys in to upskill them in their professionalism and preparation for a game. We're also looking at it more as an opportunity to get a little bit more physical development in them.
"Our weights sessions are heavier than usual, our conditioning is probably a little bit higher than it is in-season, just to do as much as we can to develop these young players as footballers but also as athletes."
Now Barnes says the chance to play week in, week out against men will be another boost for their development.
Perhaps there are no better examples than playing against Blues veteran Campese, who has donned Australian and NSW jerseys in rugby league's representative arena.
It seemed as though Campese orchestrated everything for the Blues, with his game management giving Raiders halves Reece Piepers and Joe Roberts plenty to learn from.
But Campese came from the field with 17 minutes remaining, after which Canberra piled on three tries to back up a valiant defensive effort in the middle of the park.
"It's just a year where we're just strapping blokes to get out there on the field, that's what it feels like at the moment," Campese said.
"We had 13 blokes fresh and then boys came up from reserve grade to sit on the bench. When our troops were fresh in that first half, we looked alright. Under fatigue, with some not knowing the plays, it went out the window.
"Under fatigue we need to be better, that's what we asked the lads. This is the squad for the rest of the year, so we've just got to come together, come to training and work hard and try to get that under fatigue combinations better.
"They're young, they've got enthusiasm behind them, they get to train three times a week. It is hard to compete against teams like that but if we can get our fitness a little bit stronger, I'm sure we can be thereabouts.
"It's going to be a really tough comp, we play every team three times. On the day, it's whoever can hold in the longest, that's what it feels like at the moment."
The Blues will now set their sights on rebounding against the Woden Valley Rams, who claimed their first win with a 16-8 triumph over the Gungahlin Bulls.
AT A GLANCE
CRRL Cup round two: CANBERRA RAIDERS UNDER 20s 38 (B Moeokiola 2, J Simbikin, T Beauchamp, J Roberts, M Souter, J Thompson tries; J Roberts 3, M Souter 2 goals) bt QUEANBEYAN BLUES 12 (M Parsons, L Fifita tries; T Campese 2 goals) at Seiffert Oval.
WODEN VALLEY RAMS 16 (L Eveston, L Ingram, A Ngahe tries; D Desmet 2 goals) bt GUNGAHLIN BULLS 8 at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval.