Jarrod Croker says the Canberra Raiders' future is bright, but he's expecting there to be growing pains along the way.
Croker's retirement is part of a big loss of experience for the Green Machine, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart putting his faith in youth to replenish the spine.
His loss and the departure of 2020 Dally M medallist Jack Wighton to South Sydney will see the Raiders lose 549 NRL games of experience.
They'll probably have a couple more retirements at the end of next season as well, with captain Elliott Whitehead confirming 2024 will be his last and Jordan Rapana possibly hanging up the boots as well.
That means the likes of Kaeo Weekes, Ethan Strange, Xavier Savage and Chevy Stewart have a big pre-season ahead to stake their claims for the No.1 and No.6 jerseys that need to be filled.
Croker is shifting across into some sort of a coaching role with Canberra in his playing afterlife and he had high hopes for the crop of rookies looking to stake their claims for 2024.
The young guns started their pre-season a couple of weeks ago and they were joined by most of their senior colleagues on Monday.
There's just the representative players, like Joe Tapine and Matt Timoko, yet to resume, with their return staggered over the next few weeks.
Wighton began training with his new club for the first time on Monday, with Souths even using images of the former Raiders star on promotional emails for their merchandise.
Croker felt Canberra's future was bright, but he conceded there would be plenty of ups and downs as the young guns develop.
You could argue that means nothing's changed given even Raiders staff joke they're adding defibrillators to membership packs - such is the rollercoaster ride the Green Machine goes on.
Croker said while there'd be some inexperience in the spine positions of five-eighth and fullback there was still plenty of experience around them with players like halfback Jamal Fogarty and at hooker.
The Raiders have Zac "Germ" Woolford, Tom Starling and Danny Levi as their dummy half options going into next year.
Plus Canberra has plenty of experience in their forward pack through the likes of Josh Papali'i and Tapine.
"I think they will [be able to slot into the spine]. You've still got experience in Jamal and 'Germ'," Croker said.
"Germ hasn't played a lot but he's been around awhile, Tommy Starling, and you've still got a very experienced forward pack there.
"It's not all youth. Nicky Cotric and 'Rapa' have played a lot of footy. It's not completely young, but it's just those key positions that are going to take time.
"There's going to be some really good days and there's going to be some tough days.
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"That's what being a young footy player's about, but there's still plenty of experience around them."
Croker not only backed the talent of the young playmakers, but he said the likes of Timoko would not only be better with another pre-season, but from making his international debut for New Zealand a month ago as well.
"It's obviously a changing of the guard there - [losing] myself and Jacko, a fair bit of experience," he said.
"This time next year probably [lose] a couple of others with [Whitehead] and 'Raps' and those boys.
"It's certainly a changing of the guard, but all things must come to an end
"We've seen some of the talent we have between Strangey and Chevy Stewart and guys like [Timoko] and that getting experience and another pre-season under their belt, it's going to make a hell of a difference.
"It's going to be inexperienced, but that's the way it is."
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