Anthony Milford shifts to fullback to take on Cronulla. Photo: Stefan Postles
The Canberra Raiders are pleading with the NRL to clear the way for under-20s star Mitch Cornish to make his NRL debut, asking for a second-tier salary cap exemption for the last game of the season.
Two-time under-20s halfback of the year Cornish has been named in the Raiders starting team to play the Cronulla Sharks at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
The NRL blocked the club's attempt to blood Cornish earlier this season because he was outside the Raiders' top-25 contracted players.
Mitch Cornish. Photo: Colleen Petch
But with Glen Buttriss having shoulder surgery on Friday, Blake Ferguson AWOL, Sandor Earl serving a drugs suspension, Josh Dugan sacked and eight other players injured, the Raiders have asked for an exemption in a game which is virtually a dead rubber for Canberra.
The second-tier cap is $375,000, and Canberra's has been stretched to breaking point given it has already elevated Paul Vaughan, Anthony Milford, Jake Foster and Sami Sauiluma from outside its top-25 players group.
Sauiluma got an exemption to play last month when the Raiders suffered an injury crisis in the outside backs.
But with Sam Williams, Anthony Milford, Josh McCrone and Terry Campese all fit to play, the NRL could deny Cornish's hopes of playing against the Sharks.
If Cornish does play, it could be a brutal initiation as the Canberra Raiders try to end a horror season by salvaging some pride.
Prop Brett White was at Melbourne Storm when they were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premierships, three minor premierships (2006-2008) and their 2010 premiership points due to salary cap rorting.
''I don't think anything will compare to the season I had down [in Melbourne] when everything happened, but [this year in Canberra is] not far off it,'' White said.
''We let 50 points in on the weekend [against the New Zealand Warriors] and that's not acceptable. [In the pre-season] we need to get away, forget about everything that's gone on this year so when we do get back we can fix the wrongs of this year.''
Cornish was named in the No.7 jersey with Anthony Milford moving to fullback and Joel Thompson shifting from the centres into the second row. Retiring veteran Shaun Berrigan will get a farewell match from the bench if he is fit after carrying a shoulder injury for most of the season.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen will miss the match after taking an early guilty plea for his crusher tackle against the North Queensland Cowboys last weekend.
Gallen's absence means there will be no re-match between the NSW captain and Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii after the pair clashed in a semi-final at Canberra Stadium last year.
Interim Canberra coach Andrew Dunemann is trying to help the Raiders restore some respect after a year plagued by off-season drama, players misbehaving and coach David Furner's sacking.
Regardless of whether Dunemann retains the position full-time, White said the next appointed coach needed to set strict behaviour boundaries.
''It comes down to how you manage people … if there are clear boundaries hopefully we don't have the dramas we did this year,'' White said.
''If you have someone that has everyone on the same page and everyone buying into it, I don't think you'll have the same dramas.''