West Tigers have emerged out of nowhere as leading contenders for the signature of New Zealand international forward Adam Blair, and they could land him in the next week.
Blair, who turned 25 yesterday, has been the subject of interest from Parramatta, Canterbury and the Sydney Roosters – his management is understood to be asking for more than $500,000 a season for him.
However, the Bulldogs and Roosters have already exited the race for the hottest forward on the NRL market, and it’s been said the Eels’ prospects of landing Blair have slipped due to the surprise entry of the Tigers into the market.
The Storm’s only hope of keeping him would be if he accepted a significantly less attractive salary to stay in Melbourne.
The Tigers have kept a low profile in the player market in the past year, concentrating on the development and retention of their younger and existing players. Their only signing this year was winger Matt Utai, and he is on an incentive-based, second-tier deal.
They have been patiently waiting for the right marquee player to become available and Blair is considered to be an ideal fit. An obvious appeal for the Kiwis vice-captain is the presence at Concord Oval of his captain at international level, Benji Marshall. They have played together for their country since 2008, leading the team to victories in the World Cup and Four Nations. However, in the Eels’ favour is coach Stephen Kearney, the current Kiwis and ex-assistant Storm mentor.
The Bulldogs and the Roosters have found themselves priced out of the market for Blair. Canterbury have already splurged on forwards this year by adding Aiden Tolman, Greg Eastwood and Frank Pritchard to their pack.
The Storm have made a preliminary offer to Blair but admit they cannot match the deals on offer. Their argument for Blair to stay relies on his senior status at the club and the degree to which his career has skyrocketed there since he signed his existing three-year year deal.
Melbourne are also in a battle with the Eels for their young winger Matt Duffie. They are confident he will stay after offering him a three-year contract. Others off contract at the club are Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hinchcliffe and Gareth Widdop.