Players in limbo as market grinds to a halt
MORE than 100 players with firstgrade experience are yet to find a club for next year, raising fears the majority could be squeezed out of the NRL.
Some of the biggest names in the game – including Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Darius Boyd – remain off contract for 2018. While they will have little trouble finding a home should they want one for 2018, it will be a much different story for the fringe first grader.
The player market has come to a virtual halt due to a coaching merry-go-round that has seen Neil Henry, Michael Maguire and Des Hasler sacked.
Complicating the issue is the protracted collective bargaining agreement negotiations that have left the game without an official salary cap for next year. While the figure will almost certainly be $9.4 million when developing and veteran player allowances are factored in, most of the clubs have already spent their money, while others have overspent and will need to shed stars to comply.
Rather than jump at the unsigned talent available, clubs still with cash to spend are holding out for the likes of Cronk, unsettled Panther Matt Moylan, Cronulla playmaker James Maloney or other contracted stars that may come onto the open market. There’s also a belief in club land that clubs such as the Raiders and Bulldogs will need to offload talent, leading to bargain buys ahead of the NRL kick-off next March.
The situation has left established players such as Ryan Hoffman, Michael Lichaa, Tyrone Roberts, Jamal Idris, Chris Heighington, Frank Pritchard, Tony Williams, William Zillman, Jorge Taufua, Chase Stanley, Peter Mata’utia, Drew Hutchison, Joel Edwards, Kyle Lovett, David Gower, Pauli Pauli, Jack Stockwell and Jaelen Feeney in limbo.
‘‘It’s been tough. I feel very sorry for the players who get caught in the squeeze,’’ said veteran player manager Steve Gillis.
‘‘We are now going to enter a stage where, more than likely, clubs will need to offload. Asking a player to move at this time of year now is near impossible. It gets harder the longer it goes.’’
Heighington is keen to add to his tally of 318 NRL appearances. He will be 36 in January, but his body is showing no signs of wear and tear. The two-time premier- ship winner has missed just four games in the past two season despite playing in the forwards.
‘‘There’s a couple of NRL clubs interested, a few from overseas,’’ Heighington said.
‘‘I’m just trying to get the right one and get the right decision. One more year at this stage, I don’t want to be too greedy. The body’s feeling good. I have barely missed a game through injury for four or five years. I haven’t had a reconstruction or anything like that. Hopefully I get through my NRL career with just a few broken bones.’’
Gower is another player who would walk into the best 17 at most clubs. The journeyman forward made just seven appearances this year for Parramatta, where competition for spots in the engine room is high. He’s hoping he will be offered a one-year extension. ‘‘We’ve been talking for a little while now and I’d like to think we could get something done,’’ Gower said.
The future is less clear for Idris. The 27-year-old made a comeback with Wests Tigers this season after taking a gap year from to discover the world and himself. His return was cruelled by another season-ending knee injury after just five games, with the joint-venture outfit opting not to offer him a new contract.
The cult figure declared his intention to continue playing immediately after undergoing surgery in June, but complications with the recovery meant he was less certain when contacted by Fairfax Media during the week. The Sun-Herald