Mitch Cornish, who is hoping to make his NRL debut this weekend, trains with the Raiders on Wednesday night. Photo: Melissa Adams
Raiders captain Terry Campese has called on the NRL to allow young gun Mitch Cornish to make his first-grade debut or risk harming his development.
The Raiders have requested the NRL grant an exemption to their second-tier salary cap so the under-20s star can partner Campese in the halves in Sunday's last game of the regular season against the Cronulla Sharks at Canberra Stadium.
The NRL blocked an attempt from the Raiders to blood Cornish earlier this season because he was outside their top-25 squad and they were already at the limit of their $375,000 second-tier salary cap.
But with Glen Buttriss having shoulder surgery on Friday, Blake Ferguson having gone AWOL, Sandor Earl serving a drugs suspension, Josh Dugan sacked and eight other players injured, the Raiders have asked for permission to field the Goulburn junior in a game which is a dead rubber for Canberra.
''The NRL should let us play him,'' Campese said. ''If they say no, they're hurting him, not the club. Considering all the injuries we've had and some of our players who aren't available, there's no reason why they should say no.''
A possible sticking point is the match may have finals implications for the Sharks. They could move from sixth to fifth if they beat the Raiders and the Bulldogs lose to the Broncos on Thursday night.
If the Bulldogs win, the Sharks will remain in sixth irrespective of Sunday's match with the Raiders.
The NRL allowed the Wests Tigers an exemption for their second-tier salary cap to field Luke Brooks in their round-24 victory against the St George Illawarra Dragons because the match had no bearing on the finals.
Cornish has been picked in the National Youth Competition under-20s team of the year for the past two seasons, represented NSW at under-20s level this year and is signed with the Raiders until the end of 2015.
''He's got some skill, he's got a great left-foot kicking game and has all the attributes to be one of the best halves in the future,'' Campese said. ''There's no reason why he can't handle it.''
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wasn't aware there was an issue and expected Cornish to be a handful alongside former under-20s teammate Anthony Milford.
The Sharks will be without suspended captain Paul Gallen, while forwards Jayson Bukuya and Wade Graham have been rested with niggling injuries.
Flanagan will wait until later in the week before deciding whether to play star halfback Todd Carney, who missed last week's game with a back complaint.
''Todd's a week-to-week proposition,'' Flanagan said.
''We were going to play him last week and he wasn't 100 per cent, so we rested him.
''We don't want to have too many errors or defensive problems heading into the finals, so we want to go down there and play well.''
Flanagan declined to comment on speculation the Sharks had been linked with the Raiders' Blake Ferguson, who has been stood down for breaking team protocols.