Out of alignment
NRL stars remain off-contract as time runs out to seal new deals
THERE are 12 days until the June 30, mid-season signing deadline and nearly 100 NRL players remain without a contract for next season and beyond.
But the mid-season signing frenzy is far from over, with clubs set to make moves in the next two weeks to secure talent for the remainder of this year.
Throwing further confusion into the mix is the ongoing uncertainty about what the final figure will be for the 2018 salary cap at NRL and second-tier level.
This has forced clubs to sign deals in good faith, opening the door for at least four teams to be over the estimated cap next season.
The NRL and the players’ association have been in protracted talks trying to reach agreement on a cap figure but one club official said: “It would be a miracle if it’s finalised before Christmas”.
Despite these challenges, clubs are still proceeding with business as usual.
Penrith released rising New Zealand international Te Maire Martin on Friday to join North Queensland, while the Roosters parted ways with fellow Kiwi Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
The veteran three-quarter is favoured to link with Newcastle, probably before the June 30 deadline, pending the outcome of his court case on Wednesday for cocaine possession.
The Knights had tabled the veteran back a threeyear deal worth more than $1.2 million prior to his arrest on May 29.
Newcastle took the deal off the table but it’s understood the club will most likely reopen talks with the 29-year-old.
Club officials will meet this week to discuss the prospect of luring KennyDowall to the Hunter.
The Knights were im- pressed with the long-serving Rooster when they met him in April, but they remain undecided about his signature.
English Super League club Salford have also expressed an interest in signing Kenny-Dowall.
Newcastle are privatively confident of picking up Roosters utility Connor Watson for next season.
Watson has one year remaining on his deal at Bondi, but he is in talks with the Knights and the Wests Tigers.
After missing out on a number of local juniors over the years, including Boyd Cordner and Josh Jackson, Newcastle officials are determined to nab Watson, who spent his junior football on the Central Coast and aspired to play for the Knights.
Newcastle can also offer him a starting position, which he has struggled to cement at the Roosters.
In other signing news, Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen will play on at the Sharks in 2018, while fellow veteran forward Luke Lewis is expected to follow suit.
After luring Blues star Josh Dugan from the Dragons and expressing interest in Souths outside back Aaron Gray, the premiers are likely to offload players to remain under the cap.
Off-contract interchange forward Sam Tagataese will finish his career in England if he doesn’t receive a new contract from the Sharks.
“I’ve thought about England and I’ve actually spoken with my wife and she said if it is going to help support us then she’d be prepared to pack up,” Tagataese said. “She doesn’t want to, but she is prepared to. But I reckon I’ve still got plenty more years to play footy.
“If I take care of my body I don’t see why I would hang the boots up and, hopefully, I can stay with Cronulla for another year before maybe heading overseas.”
Roosters pair Blake Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall. Picture: Gregg Porteous