There are still 26 days until the NRL kicks off, but the Newcastle Knights have already begun planning for 2012 with a million-dollar play for State of Origin forwards Kade Snowden and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs.
With as many as seven players off contract this year, the Knights are the first club this year to show their hand with a $1 million offer to bring Snowden back to Newcastle.
Snowden is the Knights’ priority signing, with his NSW front-row teammate Learoyd-Lahrs the next in line.
Snowden captained the Sharks during last Friday night’s 18-0 opening trial loss to Manly, with the talented big man drawing nearer to the biggest decision of his career.
The front-rower is believed to be torn by the prospect of returning home to Newcastle, where he grew up, or staying at Cronulla, the club that fast-tracked his career.
The Sharks have forwarded a lucrative counter-offer to Snowden and the club remains confident of keeping the 24-year-old they helped transform from a bench forward into a future representative star.
“Kade is a player we see as a future leader of the club,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said late last year.
“We’d love to have him in Sharks colours long term.”
Negotiations between Snowden, Newcastle and Cronulla have been going on since November.
The Knights have tabled a three-year deal worth just over $350,000 a season, with the Sharks’ offer believed to be equally as strong.
A source close to the prop said Cronulla were “definitely fighting hard for Kade”.
Snowden was let go by former Knights coach Brian Smith in 2008 and was quickly snapped up by former Sharks coach Ricky Stuart, who had long held a high opinion of the 112kg front-rower.
Under the guidance of Stuart, Snowden quickly developed into one of the most promising forwards in the game.
He is now a vital member of a formidable Sharks forward pack that includes representative players Paul Gallen, Jeremy Smith and Anthony Tupou.
The Knights currently boast a war chest of cash for next season with the likes of Adam MacDougall, Junior Sau, Isaac De Gois, Cory Paterson and Marvin Karawana all off contract.
Learoyd-Lahrs is off contract at the Raiders, with Melbourne also understood to be interested in the Test forward.