As of November 1st, a ridiculous amount of talent came ‘off contract’ in that rival clubs can now approach them for the 2019 season and beyond.
With the salary cap expanding and clubs competing more fiercely now than ever before, big signings are at a premium. I expect to see clubs go all out, with the magic million dollar figure already being floated in the media across multiple players.
For the purpose of this, I have only included players I believe are a chance of switching clubs. Players such as Johnathan Thurston, Boyd Cordner, Sam Burgess, Paul Gallen, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith were not considered, as I don’t believe they would entertain moving clubs. Players such as Luke Lewis have been excluded due to likely retirement.
So the below is not a top 10 players who I’d sign, or a top 10 best players off contract, moreso a top 10 I believe will be targeted, and potentially could be pried away from their current club.
10. Matt Dufty
21 year-old Matt Dufty made a brilliant start to his NRL career in his seven appearances for the Dragons in 2017. Showing lightning quick pace in the nines, it was really only a matter of time until the whippet made his NRL debut. That debut came against Manly and saw him score a try and lay on two assists. The 5 foot 10 local junior looks set for a massive 2018 as he seems the man most likely to continue in the number one role. With Josh Dugan making the switch to the Sharks, the youngster has a clear path to make the custodian role his own for a long time. With the Titans looking for a fullback option, and other teams sniffing round for young speedsters, I expect the Dragons to move to re-sign young Dufty real quickly. Plus, the Sharks could always use another fullback.
9. Joseph Manu
Also 21 years of age, Joseph Manu has 20 NRL games to his name during his time at the Roosters. Given that the Roosters boast names such as Tedesco, Gordon, Mitchell, Ferguson and Tupou, it may be tough for the centre to grab a spot in the tri-colours backline. There are a number of sides looking for a long-term option at centre, and I expect Manu’s name to be bounced around big time in the coming months. Newcastle will likely make a play, while the Dogs may look to add some youth to their backline. Rick Leutele may return to the Gold Coast opening up a centre spot in the Shire, while the Warriors, Tigers and Titans will likely have some interest. I expect Manu’s name to be floated as possible June 30th trade next season.
8. Corey Oates
For the record I can’t see Oates leaving Brisbane, but with Newcastle and others currently sitting pretty in terms of salary cap, the Broncos will have to pay up to keep in. He’s a superstar winger, but there’s a thought he will eventually shift into the back row, making even more valuable. The Sharks are set to lose Gallen and Lewis to retirement, and have two starting second row positions available. He’d slot in nicely at the Sea Eagles to round out a scary pack. Once again, Newcastle could use a superstar winger turn back rower. Craig Bellamy is brilliant at taking players from brilliant to world class, and I bet he’d turn Oates into a world beater. Scary thought. Brisbane will have to act quick.
The third 21-year-old to make the list and another option at fullback, or possibly centre. The Panthers are so sure that they have a superstar in Edwards that they allowed Matt Moylan to leave the club. Although that is not the only reason for the swap, it certainly had to have factored in somewhere. I expect the Panthers to be all over this quick smart or they face a huge task to hold onto the incredibly talented youngster. Look for any side looking for a fullback or centre to be in for Edwards. Newcastle are looking to build their side around freakish youngsters like this. I think they’ll be huge players here if Penrith don’t get the job done.
Classy number nines are in short supply right now. He’d likely walk into a few sides right now. The Warriors, who will surely not break the bank to re-sign Luke should be in huge here. The Eels are another suitor, after failing to bring back Nathan Peats to the side. The Panthers should start preparing for life after Wallace, and bring Koroisau back to the club would be a huge get. Manly won’t want to lose him after allowing Matt Parcell to move to England. I can’t see Manly being silly enough to let him stay off-contract for too long, as he could become one of the most chased players in the game.
5. Isaac Liu
With the Roosters bursting at the seams in terms of talent and salary cap, it’s likely a player the standard of Isaac Liu will have to make way eventually. AT 26 years of age, the Roosters first choice lock still has his best footy ahead of him. He had a stand out 2017 and now has over 100 NRL games to his name. With the Roosters tying up a lot of money in their stars, it’s very possible someone could sneak in under the radar here. The Sharks need a long-term 13, while the Dragons could use another back rower. Throw in the Bunnies, Warriors and even the Eels. That’s without thinking too hard.
4. Nathan Brown
2017 saw Nathan Brown go from fringe reserve grader to genuine star. As a result, the Eels will need to step it up big time to retain their star lock. He’s pretty much the perfect modern day lock in that he plays like a front rower, but with bigger minutes. A work horse with an offload, there are few teams that wouldn’t welcome Brown into their pack. I’d expect the Bulldogs to be big players here as they look to rebuild their intimidation factor. Once again the Sharks may be keen. The Warriors could use his size and workmanship. The Cowboys, Broncos and Sea Eagles aside, I can’t think of too many who wouldn’t slot Brown in at lock.
3. Curtis Scott
I’m calling it right now (Hot take alert), this kid will play Origin, possibly as soon as 2018/19. Every team in the competition will be sniffing around if Melbourne don’t pin him down to a monster, long-term deal. There was no shortage of options for his signature before he has even played an NRL game, let alone now that he has a premiership to his name. The Sharks were furious when he signed away, and there were up to 12 other clubs who lost out to the Storm. Craig Bellamy doesn’t lose many he wants to keep, and with Slater getting on in age, I think the lure of a long-term fullback spot in Melbourne will prove too strong, but I’d like to think there’s probably 10 clubs in for Scott if not.
2. Josh Mansour
The game has changed in recent years, with superstar wingers emerging as the big winners. Someone in the likes of Radradra, Oates, or Rapanna can change games. Look how much the Sharks suffered when Holmes moved from the wing. Josh Mansour arguably tops that list. There isn’t a side in the NRL who wouldn’t slot Mansour right into their side. He has been loyal to Penrith in the past, but there’s going to be big money at play here, which will test that loyalty. The Titans or Tigers may be able to lure him with a chance to play, and be paid as, a fullback. Watch this space. Penrith will be all over it, but who knows.
If the media can be believed, there is ridiculous interest in the 21 year-old future superstar. I’d even go so far as to call him a superstar already. The Roosters want him, the Sharks want him, the Bunnies want him. Crichton would be a star in any of those three sides, while arguably every other club in the NRL could use his talents. The Sharks see him as a replacement for Luke Lewis, the Roosters want him back at the club, and the Bunnies need him to support Sam Burgess. He’s head and shoulders above the rest of the back rowers in his age and experience bracket. He could realistically earn $800,000 a season in 2019 and beyond. His signature will be the most sought after this season. If the Bunnies lose him, there will be a huge blow up. If the Roosters or Sharks get him, there will be parties for days. I just hope the distraction doesn’t effect his form, as he’s New South Wales bound if he stays fit.