Furious Illawarra Cutters captain Ray Cashmere says he is ‘‘bitterly disappointed’’ with the club for denying him the chance to resume his first-grade career with the Wests Tigers.
Cashmere, who was approached this week with an offer to play for the Tigers for the remainder of the season, condemned the Cutters’ decision to block his dream of returning to the NRL competition.
The Mercury understands Cashmere had the blessing of his coach Paul McGregor and Dragons mentor Steve Price to leave, but was ultimately refused a release by the Cutters board.
‘‘I’m pissed off and my family’s pissed off - I can’t believe it,’’ a dejected Cashmere told the Mercury of the rebuff yesterday.
‘‘I’m a professional person, so I’ll go about my job and fulfil my obligation, but I’m bitterly disappointed and I can’t believe they’ve restricted me from achieving my best.
‘‘The Cutters, a reserve grade team, have essentially stopped a bloke from having a go at a first-grade team.
‘‘It goes against the whole ethos of NSW Cup: helping guys develop and getting them to the top.’’
Despite the saga, Cashmere promised to live up to his present role as Cutters captain this season, and said he would continue to support his team-mates.
‘‘The Cutters are lucky that I’m the sort of person that wouldn’t leave my mates in the lurch,’’ he said.
‘‘If I’m obligated to do something, I’ll do the right thing - but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.
‘‘I’ve just got to cop it sweet, I suppose.
‘‘I’m 32, so I’d be pretty lucky if anyone wanted anything to do with me at the end of the season, but you never say never.’’
The Cutters’ decision provoked a fiery social media backlash from friends and fans of Cashmere, with many drawing a direct link with Tim Moltzen reneging on his three-year deal with the Dragons.
‘‘It’s not like I’m Tim Moltzen or a big-name signing - I’m far from that,’’ Cashmere said.
‘‘I’ve got no delusions about my ability or my profile, I would have just gone to the Tigers to do my job.’’
Wests Tigers chief executive Stephen Humphries rejected claims Cashmere’s ill-fated recruitment bid was a payback gesture for the Moltzen saga.‘‘I don’t think it’s related whatsoever, I think everyone moved on from Tim Moltzen a long time ago,’’ Humphries said.
‘‘He’s obviously known to a lot of people and our players because he played with us, but that decision rests purely with the Illawarra Cutters, so that’s the end of that.
‘‘The feedback we had was that he’s been performing really well for Illawarra and that he’s been thought of for NRL with St George Illawarra. My understanding is that’s the reasoning and that makes a lot of sense to me.’’
The Dragons are still considering pursuing action on two fronts over the Moltzen saga: against Moltzen’s player manager, Martin Tauber, and against the Tigers for failing to sign a deed of release.
‘‘I was going to play first grade this weekend if we got the clearances through in time, and with the Tigers low on props, I could have potentially been in first grade all year,’’ Cashmere said of the offer.
‘‘I’ve been told I might have been a chance for the Dragons through Origin and injury but working four night shifts a week and training afternoons and spending hardly any time with my family makes it hard, especially when there’s no guarantees.’’
Humphries insisted the club would not rush into finding someone to replace Cashmere, despite having lost a number of forwards to off-season recruitments and injury.
‘‘We back our current roster, and if an opportunity comes along later in the season - as things sometimes do - then we’ll consider those options as they come up,’’ Humphries said.
‘‘We’re not out there trying to desperately seek someone at the moment - we’re backing our current roster.
‘‘If the right kind of opportunity comes along, we’ll give it consideration.’’
Cashmere will play for the Cutters against North Sydney Bears tomorrow.