Out of align­ment

NRL stars re­main off-con­tract as time runs out to seal new deals

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NRL -

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

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