Luke likely to leave as cap tight­ens

Whanganui Chronicle - - Sport Local Classifieds - By Michael Burgess

Is­sac Luke is set to part ways with the War­riors, with this sea­son ex­pected to be his last in Auck­land.

Al­though the for­mer Ki­wis hooker has been one of the club’s best this sea­son — a ma­jor part of their un­ex­pected re­vival — NZME un­der­stands it’s un­likely he will be at Mt Smart next year.

There could still be a change in cir­cum­stances that sees Luke re­main in Auck­land be­yond 2018 but that prospect is at long odds.

The pri­mary is­sue is the salary cap and the lack of space the club has to work with. Un­like other clubs, who seem to have a bot­tom­less pit, aided by third party pay­ments, the War­riors strict lim­its.

The land­scape has changed sig­nif­i­cantly since Luke and Roger Tuiv­asa-Sheck were signed on big deals ahead of the 2016 sea­son.

Al­though the War­riors have off­loaded some play­ers who were tak­ing up a de­cent por­tion of the cap, such as Ryan Hoff­man, Manu Vatu­vei and Ben Mat­ulino, the club have also in­vested heav­ily.

Shaun John­son’s new deal was worth more than $1 mil­lion a year, and Tuiv­asa-Sheck signed an up­graded con­tract in March. Tohu Har­ris was lured from Mel­bourne, with the club trump­ing a large Storm of­fer, Adam Blair and Blake Green com­mand sig­nif­i­cant salaries and Ger­ard Beale and Peta Hiku are Ki­wis in­ter­na­tion­als.

It means there is a rea­son­able dis­par­ity be­tween what the club forked out to prise Luke from the Rab­bitohs and what they can of­fer.

At times, Luke seems age­less, but at 31, the Taranaki prod­uct also needs to make his next con­tract count.

He may not want to leave the War­riors, es­pe­cially given the team’s progress, but might feel he has lit­tle choice.

The other fac­tor is the hook­ing stocks at the club. De­spite his wretched run with in­juries, there is great faith in the po­ten­tial of Nathaniel Roache. The 22-year-old has played only nine games since the start of the 2017 sea­son but is seen as the long-term No 9. Karl Lawton has also im­pressed in his lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties.

It’s a tricky de­ci­sion, as the dummy half role has be­come one of the most im­por­tant in the game. Luke, with his re­mark­able strength (kilo for kilo, one of the strong­est in the NRL) and speed, has been key to sev­eral War­riors wins this year.

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