Wallabies rookie Len Ikitau has called for the return of the NRC to give Australian rugby's next generation a crucial "stepping stone" to the elite level.
Ikitau came through the second-tier pathway with the Canberra Vikings alongside club teammates Noah Lolesio and Darcy Swain in recent years.
On Saturday night, the trio started for the Wallabies in an epic Test series decider against France.
But Australian rugby has been left without a competition to bridge the gap between club football and Super Rugby, with the NRC a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was awesome to play NRC with some of my good mates like Darcy and Noah here," Ikitau said.
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"It's a little stepping stone towards Super Rugby, and just making that leap to Wallabies. It was just an awesome experience and hopefully it comes back."
Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos is keen to establish a second-tier competition, the likes of which fast-tracked the development of players like Lolesio, Ikitau and Swain.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was full of praise for Swain in the wake of the third Test. It was his effort at the death which ultimately ended France's hopes of victory.
Ikitau impressed in his first start at outside centre, while Lolesio racked up 23 points including the decisive penalty which clinched the series.
"Lenny and Swainy are some of my closest mates. The fact both of them were on the field with me doing it, it's pretty crazy hey, don't you reckon," Lolesio said after Saturday's thrilling Test.
"In 2017-18, we all went through Vikings in Canberra, and four years later we're all playing for the Wallabies in the same team.
"If you would have told us that back in the day, we would have probably laughed. It's awesome to be together."
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