The Canberra Raiders have announced the return of the under 20's Raiders to the NSW Jersey Flegg competition next season, with Woden Valley Rams Premiership Coach Ash Barnes to lead the team.
Previously, any Raiders players contracted with the 20's played with Mounties during the 2018 season, after the National Youth Competition concluded at the end of 2017. The Raiders 20's team will now be based full-time in Canberra and return under the Raiders logo and play in Raiders team colours.
The under 20's will play a number of their home matches at GIO Stadium and other local venues, with these fixtures to be announced once the NRL and NSWRL draws have been finalised.
The return of the Raiders under 20s to Canberra gives locally based players a clear and direct pathway into the NRL system, with the club's junior representative program to field four teams in 2019, with the under 16s (Harold Matthews), under 18s (SG Ball) and under 20s (Jersey Flegg) men's teams and the under 18s (Tarsha Gale Cup) women's team.
Raiders CEO Don Furner said the Raiders have long prided themselves on their junior development program and the re-inclusion of the under 20s into the club's pathway program allowed the club to continue this into the future.
"The Raiders are a club with a proud history of developing players and this comes from the work we have always done in junior development in Canberra and the surrounding regions," Furner said. "We want to make sure we are giving players from Canberra, the Monaro Region, the Riverina and the Far South Coast the opportunity to identify a clear pathway and having the under 20s is a vital stepping stone in this process."
"Its also great to see a Coach who has achieved success locally in Ash Barnes, get the opportunity to further his career and lead the next generation of Raiders along this pathway."
Barnes has an impressive Coaching resume, taking the Woden Valley Rams to their first Canberra Raiders Cup title since 1996 this season after four years in the Head Coach role at the Rams. Barnes also coached the Monaro under 23's team in 2017-2018, winning the Country Championships in 2017 and making the Final in 2018. He was also an Assistant Coach for the Mounties under 20s team in 2018.
Barnes said he's honoured to have the opportunity to become the Coach of the clubs under 20s team in 2019 and said the return of the team to the Raiders colours gives players the perfect opportunity to continue their career progression.
"I'm excited about the opportunity and it shows the Raiders are an organisation who reward local coaches and help develop them like they do with players," Barnes said. "Its great to have the under 20s back in Canberra playing under the Raiders colours again and I know the club has a strong tradition of developing local players and helping them with a pathway into the NRL."
Barnes said the under 20s team showed resilience and professionalism to achieve success in 2018 and he expected the squad to return for pre-season training with a strong attitude and desire for more success in 2019.
"The under 20s had a phenomenal season this year considering all of the travel they had to do each week and it's a credit to the Mounties organisation to have helped them reach the Preliminary Final," he said. "The players I've spoken to are really excited to have the opportunity though to pull on the green jersey again and it gives us the opportunity to continue their progression as players as Raiders."