Rugby League

Canberra Raiders explore 'legal avenues' over Mitchell Barnett NRL contract dispute

The Canberra Raiders are involved in a messy contract dispute with promising second-rower Mitch Barnett and are prepared to take the matter to court.

Barnett has told the Raiders he won't be returning to Canberra to honour the final two years of his contract after his management discovered it wasn't lodged with the NRL.

It is understood Barnett is attempting to get out of the written agreement he made with the Raiders so he can sign a more lucrative deal with the Gold Coast Titans.

The Raiders announced in April that Barnett had agreed to a new two-year deal.

That was before Barnett had made his NRL debut.

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Barnett's manager Mandy Hull emailed the Raiders late on Friday afternoon, October 30, to inform them her client would part ways with the club.

Hull told Fairfax Media that the NRL's salary cap auditor had ruled there was no binding contract between Barnett and the Raiders.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner said the club would fight the auditor's decision as they believed they had a solid case.

"We believe we have got an agreement and we will be exploring our legal avenues in that regard," Furner said.

"We reached an agreement in April and it was our intention that he would be a long-term player with us."

Barnett played two NRL games for the Raiders this year.

He had to wait until the round 22 match against the Wests Tigers to get his chance.

Barnett also played the following week against the Penrith Panthers before he was sent back to the NSW Cup.

He was named the player of the year in the NSW Cup with Mounties, was picked in the NSW Cup team of the year and represented the NSW Residents against the Queensland Residents.

Barnett is understood to have asked the Raiders for a release earlier this year so he had greater opportunities to play first grade.

That came after the Raiders announced they had signed English international Elliott Whitehead on a two-year deal starting in 2016.

Hull said Barnett was back in his home-town of Wingham on the mid-north coast of NSW recovering from a thumb injury sustained throwing a football in the off-season.

 "The salary cap auditor has confirmed there's no contract between the Raiders and Mitch," Hull said.

"Under the rules in the NRL, there is a contract once all three parties sign and once the contract's registered.

"At the moment, it leaves him at home in Wingham, and obviously we'll be trying to sort out his immediate future fairly quickly."

It is understood the Raiders would welcome Barnett back at the club next season.

Barnett would face plenty of competition for spots in either the second-row or the front-row at the Raiders.

Maroons representative Josh Papalii and veteran Sia Soliolia have the starting positions in the second-row locked down, while Whitehead will compete with Jarrad Kennedy for a spot on the bench.

In the front-row, NSW Country representatives Paul Vaughan and Shannon Boyd are joined by Frank-Paul Nuuausala and new signing Jeff Lima.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have released outside back Jeremy Hawkins from the final year of his contract.

Hawkins is set to join the Melbourne Storm.

The former Junior Kiwi international played seven games for the Raiders in the past two seasons.

The 22-year-old was frustrated when the Raiders signed Joey "BJ" Leilua mid-way through this season, limiting his chances to play in the centres.

Hawkins was also behind Edrick Lee and Sisa Waqa for a spot on the wing.

The Raiders had wanted to retain forward Mark Nicholls, who instead signed with the Storm.

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