Kevin Locke of the Warriors has been linked to a move to the Raiders. Photo: Bradley Kanaris
THE Canberra Raiders have initiated contingency plans to replace rookie sensation Anthony Milford, approaching New Zealand Test fullback Kevin Locke before the Warriors stepped in to block his release for next year.
The Raiders are not budging on Milford's request for an immediate release, adamant the 19-year-old will see out the remaining year of his contract in Canberra next year.
But there is growing concern at the club that even if Milford does continue playing for the Raiders next year, he is likely to link with the Brisbane Broncos in 2015.
The Raiders have plenty of room to move in the salary cap after the sackings of representative stars Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson last season.
It's understood the Raiders showed genuine interest in Locke, approaching the 24-year-old's manager Darryl Mather.
The Warriors initially gave Locke permission to negotiate with rival clubs, having signed English representative fullback Sam Tomkins for next season.
Penrith, the Bulldogs and the Raiders all declared interest in Locke, but Mather said the Warriors now wanted to retain him.
''The Warriors have now made it very clear that they are not going to grant him permission to look anywhere else,'' Mather said. ''He will be at the Warriors in 2014.''
Locke could be a long-term option for the Raiders should Milford not re-sign with the club for 2015.
The Raiders are also set to meet this week with British 18-year-old fullback Curtis Naughton, who made his Super League debut this year with the Bradford Bulls.
Naughton is coming to Australia to be closer to his mother, who has relocated to Canberra. But the young prospect would only be considered at this stage for a contract with Canberra's under-20 National Youth Competition team.
Milford is not likely to give Canberra an indication on his future until after he represents Samoa at the World Cup.
New Raiders assistant coach Matt Parish will take charge of Samoa, enabling him to form a relationship with Milford.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart met Milford's manager Sam Ayoub again during the week.
''I'm expecting [Milford] back [next season] but I don't know if it's any clearer,'' Stuart said. ‘‘You don’t want to lose players of his calibre, he’s a player of the future.
''He’s got such a career in front of him, he’s going to be an outstanding player. He’s already shown now what he can do.... we certainly don’t want to lose him.''
The loss of Dugan, Ferguson, Shaun Berrigan, Sam Williams and utility Joel Thompson has left Canberra most exposed in the back line. But Stuart said he would not buy in players in a panic.
‘‘I have been looking around talking to other player managers but at this stage of the season because there is money available you don’t just want to go out and spend it willy nilly. It’s important to spend it in areas where you want to create more depth. You’ve got to be smart about spending the money.’’