Canberra are weighing up whether to join the race for Melbourne’s rising star Nicho Hynes after the club outlined the frustrations that led to the abrupt release of English halfback George Williams.
The likely return of Williams to Wigan is expected to coincide with confirmation that England Test centre Oliver Gildart is heading to the NRL to join Wests Tigers next year but the Super League has ruled out releasing him or teammate Jackson Hastings for the remainder of this season.
With Canberra’s finals hopes fading after just one win in their past seven matches, the Raiders are also looking beyond this season in the search for a replacement playmaker and Hynes has emerged as a possible target.
The 24-year-old is currently starring for the Storm at fullback in place of the injured Ryan Papenhuyzen but he has played most of his 65 matches in the Queensland Cup at five-eighth and has also spent time at halfback.
Shaun Johnson, Ash Taylor, Anthony Milford and Corey Norman are more experienced options off contract at the end of the season but the prospect of Hynes partnering Jack Wighton in the halves is likely to have more appeal in Canberra.
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After losing the 2019 grand final to the Roosters in controversial circumstances and making last year's preliminary final, the Raiders have suffered a dramatic fall from grace and face big calls on the futures of off-contract veterans Iosia Soliola, Dunamis Lui and Jordan Rapana, as well as England hooker Josh Hodgson.
Hodgson, who has been linked with Brisbane, recently quit as co-captain and has been outspoken over the exit of Williams, while indicating he may not be keen to remain in Canberra if he wasn’t in the starting side after being selected on the interchange for the past two matches.
After the Raiders announced on Tuesday that Williams had been granted an immediate release, the English international tweeted that he had been “kicked out the door”.
However, Canberra officials responded on Thursday by detailing how after having a request for a release at the end of the season rejected on Monday night, Williams had advised that he couldn’t train on Tuesday and may not be available for Saturday night’s match against on Sydney Roosters.
The Raiders had received numerous requests from Williams for a release at the end of the season to return home with his pregnant partner but were putting in place measures to support them, including an offer for them to spend an extended off-season in England with family.
"George’s final request for a release came on Monday evening. The following day George withdrew from training and the upcoming match against the Roosters,” a statement said.
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“This decision prompted the club to offer George an immediate release given the stress this was evidently causing he and his partner, thereby giving them the opportunity to return home earlier.
“As a club, we have a duty to act in the best interests of the club, its members, sponsors and supporters. Sometimes the best interests of the club do not match those of an individual.
“The club therefore determined that granting George an immediate release would allow us to plan better for the club’s future.
“We would like to reiterate that it was the club’s overwhelming preference to keep George until the end of next season, as he is a good person, well-liked and a valuable member of our club.
“However, when this situation became untenable, we needed to act in the best interests of the club and our future.”
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Wigan coach Adrian Lam has confirmed the Super League club are in talks to sign Williams.
Warrington and Leeds are also thought to be keen on the 26-year-old but Wigan having first refusal on his services as a condition of his release to join Canberra last year.
Wigan also have space in their salary cap after releasing George Burgess and will be permitted to include just £75,000 of Williams’ contract in the salary cap because he is a product of the club.
As a result, Wigan are under no pressure to release any player to accommodate Williams and it is understood they have already advised the Tigers that Hastings will see out the season in England.
The former Roosters and Manly halfback has signed with the Tigers for next season and a deal for Gildart to join him is believed to be close to being finalised.