Cashed-up NRL clubs walk a tightrope

Melbourne Storm is negotiating with superstar Cooper Cronk. Photo: AAP Image.
Melbourne Storm is negotiating with superstar Cooper Cronk. Photo: AAP Image.

Club chief executives have never had a tougher time trying to retain stars or recruit top-flight players than the wheeling and dealing currently going on behind closed doors.

Since the NRL negotiated its record $1.8 billion TV and radio broadcasting rights deal last November, player values have skyrocketed, especially those who fill key positions like halfback, five-eighth, fullback and hooker.

Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk, Brisbane forwards Corey Parker and Matt Gillett, Cowboys pair James Tamou and Lachlan Coote, young South Sydney five-eighth Luke Keary and Parramatta discovery Corey Norman are some of the players coming off contract in 2016 whose agents are shopping around to cashed-up NRL clubs.

In 2018 NRL clubs will sign 30 players, including six rookies with the under-20s competition scrapped, making it imperative they get a balance right when it comes to what they pay players so they don't over-budget or end up in trouble with the new "ratchet" contract clauses built around pay increases.

Melbourne chief executive Dave Donaghy did not want to comment on rumours linking South Sydney's Luke Keary to the Storm, especially with Cronk looking to negotiate his final contract with the club.

"We're still in negotiations with Cooper and his management," Donaghy told Australian Regional Media.

Reports have already tied Bronco Gillett to a $700,000-a-season offer from the Dragons, with some suggesting it may even be higher, which would make it extremely tough, even for Wayne Bennett, to keep him beyond this season.

The Cowboys are in the same boat with Coote because they need to up their offer to Tamou, who has left his latest contract talks with his Sydney-based manager Sam Ayoub to sort out.



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