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St George Illawarra are prepared to shell out almost $5 million in a bid to prise superstar Joseph Manu from the Roosters, with coach Shane Flanagan declaring: “I think he would be enormous for our club.”
The battle lines have been drawn now that the calendar has ticked over to November 1, with almost 200 NRL players permitted to test their value on the open market.
Jarome Luai, Ezra Mam, Tom Dearden, Tohu Harris, Brandon Smith, Adam Reynolds, Angus Crichton, Bradman Best and Luke Keary are among the marquee men now in the last year of their contracts and able to negotiate with rival clubs.
Perhaps the most prized signature of them all is that of Manu, rated by this masthead as the No.1 free agent on the market. The Kiwi international is one of the Roosters’ favourite sons and the Tricolours are confident he will finish his career as a one-club man.
However, the Dragons are prepared to offer Manu a seven-figure salary and the chance to play fullback if the star centre is serious about a change of scene.
“From what I see when he plays fullback, his involvement is enormous. I think he could make a real fist of it,” Flanagan told this masthead.
The Dragons are ready to open the purse strings for Joseph Manu.Credit: Getty
“I’d love to have him, but I just don’t know if he’s going to move. In the end, it’s not us, it’s not the Roosters, it’s just what Joey wants to do.
“I know he loves the Roosters, I know Nick [Roosters chairman Nick Politis] loves him. Does he want to leave and have a crack at fullback? He obviously won’t get to play too much there.”
Tyrell Sloan will again vie for the Dragons No.1 jersey alongside regular centre Zac Lomax this season. The Red V is also expected to make a play for Sharks utility Connor Tracey. However, the Dragons are prepared to make a huge play for Manu if he doesn’t immediately recommit to the Roosters.
Sources speaking on the condition of anonymity given negotiations haven’t commenced said the Dragons would be prepared to pay up to $1.2 million a year over four years in a bid to make the transfer happen.
Playing at fullback in a Test for New Zealand against Tonga in 2022, Manu ran for a world record 401 metres. However, Roosters skipper James Tedesco currently has a mortgage on the No.1 jersey at Bondi Junction.
“We have young Sloaney here, who I think we can develop and learn. He can play a bit of wing, Manu can play centre and wing,” Flanagan said.
“We just need to be in the market for some elite, quality players. If they go to market, they would want to test what they are worth and consider whether they would want to leave.
“If that happens with Joey, we’d be in there, but I don’t know if that will happen.”
Manu has made all 158 of his first-grade appearances at the Roosters since shifting from New Zealand and the club is privately confident of retaining his services. The Tricolours are also hopeful Terrell May will accept a two-year deal to stay put.
Other clubs are also in the process of tying up their big names before rivals can pounce. South Sydney on Tuesday confirmed the contract extension of Maroons forward Jai Arrow for a further three years, until the end of 2027.
“I want to finish my journey at this club and I’m so happy to be a part of the South Sydney Rabbitohs,” Arrow said.
Newcastle is confident it will retain its two biggest off-contract names, Bradman Best and Jacob Saifiti. The Blues stars, both local juniors, have been tabled three-year deals worth about $2.1 million each.
The Knights also confirmed the signing of Penrith’s Tom Jenkins on a two-year contract, while the Sea Eagles announced the re-signing of Lachlan Croker for a further two seasons.
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