Hawkins, Rapana pushing for Raiders spots
Between them they have only played five games in Canberra's lime green jersey but utility Jordan Rapana and centre Jeremy Hawkins aren't prepared to play second fiddle in Ricky Stuart's Raiders team.
Having overcome separate obstacles in 2014 with Rapana restricted to two first grade appearances after fracturing his skull and Hawkins initially blocked from making his debut due to the club's second-tier salary cap issues, the time has come for the duo to push for regular NRL spots.
After making his debut as an 18-year-old with the Gold Coast Titans back in 2008, Rapana returned to the NRL last year and is keen to cement his position following a two-year Mormon mission and a less than successful stint with the ACT Brumbies kept him away from the game.
Now 25, Rapana's road to the bright lights of the NRL is in full swing, though the Cook Islands international said he doesn't regret anything about how the past seven years have panned out.
"I have no regrets. I guess I found it difficult transferring to rugby union," Rapana told NRL.com.
"I spent three years playing it and I guess I felt like I wasted a bit of time there when I could've had some good seasons in the NRL, but that's life.
"I prolonged my rugby union career but I have no doubt I can get back to where I want to be in the NRL. I was out of the game for a long time but it was a dream come true to get another shot."
While Jack Wighton looks to have one hand on the Raiders No. 1 jersey already, Rapana believes his confidence and ability to learn is a huge boost to his rugby league credentials.
Despite his love for the fullback position, his utility value is set to pay dividends in the long run.
"I've been training at fullback, centre and wing, so I've been moving around the whole backline and I'm happy to play anywhere," Rapana said.
"Fullback is a position I love though. There's lots of room, lots of freedom and hopefully I can get a few games there this year."
With a new era beckoning at the Raiders, Rapana is optimistic about the club's fortunes.
"There's real good mateship and respect throughout the club. I came here when there was all that bloody rubbish with 'Duges' [Josh Dugan] and 'Fergo' [Blake Ferguson] so there wasn't much positive stuff going on here at first," Rapana said.
"It's changed a lot since then and Sticky has done a big cleanout and you can just see the changes with the way we train and the culture we have around here now."
The fruitfulness of the new era has seen Mitch Cornish and Brenko Lee make their debuts and Blake Austin, Iosia Soliola, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Sisa Waqa join the club.
Another who has hugely benefited from the club's new era is Hawkins, who played in the Raiders' final three games of last season and is yet to suffer a loss in the NRL.
At just 21-years-old Hawkins is excited to get through pre-season and get back to playing.
"I'm definitely over this pre-season. The season can hurry up. It'll be the best thing when it's back," Hawkins told NRL.com.
"It does give you a greater appreciation for those who have played over 10 seasons or 300 games – that is crazy!
"This pre-season has been a lot tougher than last pre-season. There is a lot more running, they have upped the running by about 10 per cent but it feels like they have upped the running by 50 per cent. It's taken a toll on the body but it's been good."
Wighton's move to fullback, while detrimental to Rapana's positional preference, may just be what Hawkins needs to establish himself in the NRL.
With the Raiders right centre spot vacant, Hawkins is now vying for Wighton's previous role alongside the Lee cousins, Hayden Hodge, Bill Tupou and Rapana himself.
After getting his diet and fitness on song, Hawkins feels better placed to make a bigger impact in the NRL.
"It was good to get three NRL games last year and I learned a lot out of them, so I should be coming into the games fitter than what I was last year," Hawkins said.
"I was blowing in all three of them but it was just good to get some experience and finally get a crack. It was a childhood dream come true."