Canterbury boss Raelene Castle has given the strongest indication yet that the Bulldogs may not be able to keep unsettled superstar Ben Barba.
Fullback Barba has sought a release from the final two years of his contract, saying he wants to be close to his ex-partner and two children who are relocating to Queensland.
New Bulldogs chief executive Castle said on Friday the issue of a release had only been discussed in recent days, despite wide speculation about the possibility over several weeks, and the club had been focused on the other off-field issues which delayed Barba’s start to the season.
“We were very much hoping that we could find a resolution to this discussion within the Bulldogs environment, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Castle told Sky Sports Radio.
“It was only within the last 10 days that we got an official release (request). Previous to that, we hadn’t had any specific dialogue.
“We had continued to work through with Ben to make sure he was back on the field and playing the best football that he could after his start to the year.”
Asked whether Barba had indicated he wanted to take up a contract with Brisbane, Castle replied: “No.
“There isn’t any decision made around that.
“Ben’s done a really good job like that. He’s come to us, he’s explained the situation with his partner and his family.”
The newly-installed CEO, who took over from Todd Greenberg on July 29, said she was determined to ensure the best outcome for both the Bulldogs and Barba.
“These things are very delicate and you need to work through them,” she said.
“Unhappy players aren’t a great scenario. But at the end of the day, players also sign contracts and have to think about what the long-term implications of making those decisions … and what that’s going to look like for their life for the next four years.
“All of these things come into the discussion and we’re going to continue to work through those things.”
She added coach Des Hasler had been at the centre of the discussions, which were still in their early phase and had not yet covered potential compensation.
“(Des is) a really important element in this process, in making sure that he feels that he’s got a squad that’s going to continue to perform for him,” she said.
“The fans play a big part of this as well, because he’s an important player and our fans absolutely adore him.
“So we need to make sure that whatever we do we act professionally and we find an outcome that ends up with some level of winning for every party.”
Castle agreed that the club was trying to “move heaven and earth” to keep Barba, who joined the Bulldogs in 2007.
“Any club would be crazy to say `Sure, Ben, off you go’.
“He’s a player that’s been bred by the Bulldogs. He is part of the fabric of the club and he’s been there for a very long time – that also adds challenges.”
Barba was diplomatic when asked about his contract situation on Sterlo on Fox Sports on Thursday but confirmed Ainslie Currie, the mother of his two children, was set to move north and he would like to follow.
“My ex-partner and my kids will be relocating to Queensland,” Barba said.
“I’ve left all that stuff up to my management, to ask them what’s the possibilities of me going.
“At the end of the day, when she goes, how should I say it, because it’s quite a difficult question … I would like to join them. But at the moment I’m still contracted at the Dogs.
“We’ll see what happens.”