The Milk has returned, and so have the Raiders' reggies.
Canberra will field a standalone team in this year's NSW Cup competition for the first time in 14 years, solving the problem of how to inject game time into their fringe squad members who were consigned to training scrimmages for the bulk of 2020.
It will effectively operate as a reserve grade side for the club, which has withdrawn from the NSW under-21s Jersey Flegg competition in favour of NSW Cup. The club's Flegg coach Peter Marrapodi will take charge of the team.
Fringe first graders, extended squad members and under-21s players will play in the NSW Cup side, while it gives coach Ricky Stuart another option when bringing players back from injury.
At least half a dozen home games at Canberra Stadium this year will feature a NSW Cup clash as a curtain raiser to the NRL, offering fans double the dose of rugby league. Their inclusion in the NSW Cup expands that competition to 11 teams for 2021.
"The NSW Cup allows our squad to best prepare for NRL football and will allow the coaching staff to see who is performing well enough to come into the first-grade team if required," Stuart said.
"We saw in our last competition game against the Sharks last season the wonderful depth we have in the squad and it will be fantastic to see them get more match time at a high level in 2021."
Several Raiders squad members were bereft of regular rugby league action last season after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NSWRL to scrap its NSW Cup. The Raiders had been linked with Mounties for eight seasons, but that partnership ended midway through 2020 with the west-Sydney club instead hitching itself to the Canterbury Bulldogs wagon.
Raiders officials had explored the possibility of using the local Canberra rugby league competition as an option to offer its fringe players regular game time, before the NSWRL admitted the club as the 11th team into their league.
MORE CANBERRA SPORT
Canberra will now field five teams this year, including their under-17s, under-19s and under-18s women's team.
"After careful evaluation and feedback from our coaches and pathways staff, we've decided that fielding a team on our own in the NSW Cup is best for the club's football program," Raiders chief Don Furner said.
"We haven't fielded a Raiders team in this competition since 2007 and we know our members and supporters will definitely identify more with a team wearing our famous green jersey.
"We also look forward to scheduling as many of their matches as we can with our NRL team to enhance the match day experience."
Surplus under-21s players who don't fit into the Raiders' NSW Cup side this year will return to play locally for allocated clubs in the Canberra Raiders Cup competition.
The Raiders will look to return to the Jersey Flegg competition in 2022 while also maintaining a team in the NSW Cup.