The Canberra Raiders will field its own reserve grade side in the NSW Cup competition this season for the first time since 2007 in what will help bolster rugby league ranks in the region.
The Raiders had used western Sydney club Mounties as a feeder team for NRL first grade, but that partnership of eight years ended in 2020 when Mounties linked with the Canterbury Bulldogs.
When several fringe players stepped into the Raiders’ first-grade side at the end of last year, the impressive quality and depth of players highlighted the need for them to receive more opportunities.
It is expected several NSW Cup games will be played in Canberra in conjunction with Raiders’ NRL games, giving fringe players the opportunity for regular time on the field at GIO Stadium.
The move to NSW Cup will see the Raiders drop out of the Jersey Flegg (under-21s) competition for the 2021 season, with a view to possibly re-entering a team next year.
Jersey Flegg coach Peter Marrapodi will step up to the role of Raiders’ NSW Cup coach.
The Raiders’ NSW Cup squad will comprise a mixture of NRL squad members and players who have been training for the Raiders’ Jersey Flegg team so far this pre-season.
The Raiders will still field teams in SG Ball (under-19s), Harold Matthews Cup (under-17s) and Tarsha Gale Cup (women’s under-18s) in 2021.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said the NSW Cup decision is a great opportunity for the club’s football program to field its own reserve-grade team, and allows players not participating in the NRL to play at the next best level on offer, helping to continue their development and match fitness.
“We’re really excited to be back in the NSW Cup, with the competition allowing us to get some valuable field time for our NRL squad members,” he said.
“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.
“We saw in our last competitive [regular season] 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.”
Raiders CEO Don Furner said having a NSW Cup team also gives Raiders’ members and fans the opportunity to see more of the club’s NRL squad players, and keep an eye on the next crop of players coming through the system.
“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,” he said.
“It also gives our members and fans the opportunity to have their own team to support in this competition.
“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.
“I’d also like to thank the NRL for providing the extra funding, and the NSWRL for re-admitting the Raiders into the NSW Cup at this late stage of the pre-season.”