North Queensland chief executive Peter Jourdain has confirmed Tonga has 14 days to peruse the NRL’s open market as speculation mounts he will sign with the Parramatta Eels.
The Eels have already signed his younger brother, Esi, for next season and the club has made no secret of its desire to recruit a quality outside back.
Tonga is also tight with in-form Eels forward Reni Maitua, who has been in silky touch for the past fortnight since returning from 18 months out of the NRL and is signed to Parramatta until the end of next season.
Cowboys centre Tonga still has a year to run on his contract but after consultation with club football manager Peter Parr, the Queensland star was given permission to talk to rival clubs.
“Obviously there was a period last year where Willie informed us he was unhappy in Townsville and Peter Parr told him at the time if he still felt the same way in six months to come and see him,” Jourdain said.
“Willie’s very happy at the club but it’s just living in Townsville where he’s struggling a little bit.
“We’ve given him a couple of weeks just to have a look around and see what else is out there and then come back to us.”
The Eels repeatedly denied having signed Tonga, despite club legend Peter Sterling announcing on Channel Nine during Friday night’s coverage that Parramatta was poised to make a big-name announcement in the next fortnight.
Eels chief executive Paul Osborne maintained no deal had been done and refused to comment on the mounting speculation.
“I’ve got no comment to make about any of it,” Osborne said.
Eels coach Stephen Kearney has also denied Tonga will join the club next year.