Transfer talk: Broncos to splash cash as Eels fill gaps
Brisbane coach Kevin Walters will go Christmas shopping for recruits after injury-ravaged Jack Bird became the first casualty of his new regime at the Broncos.
Months of speculation over Bird's future are finally over with the luckless 25-year-old agreeing to a two-year deal at the Dragons after negotiating a severance package with the Broncos.
Bird was contracted to the Broncos for next season, but Walters was content to release him 12 months early, allowing the former NSW Origin star to return to family on the NSW south coast.
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The final year of Bird's deal was worth $975,000 and his reunification with the Dragons will free-up around $500,000 in the salary cap for a Broncos club in urgent need of regeneration.
That gives Walters scope to begin a roster rebuild, with the new Broncos coach to hit the open market after also losing No. 1 centre Kotoni Staggs for eight months with a knee reconstruction.
"I know Jack was on good coin here but his decision to go home was more based around Jack's personal ambitions," Walters said.
"There won't be too many more departures but with Jack going and the injury to Kotoni, we need to look for another outside back somewhere.
"Most clubs have players signed up but I will look at what's available.
"If we get someone, it has to come at the right price I guess.
"We need to replace Jack in some capacity so I'll be looking to the market."
Cameron Smith is the best free agent currently available, but Broncos chairman Karl Morris insists the club will not be making a play for the Storm champion who almost joined Brisbane five years ago.
It has been a horror chapter for Bird at the Broncos.
When he arrived at the end of 2017, Bird was touted as the attacking dynamo who could help bring a premiership to the Broncos after he played a starring role in Cronulla's maiden title win 12 months earlier.
But Bird played just 17 of a possible 74 games in three seasons at the Broncos after sternum and shoulder injuries were compounded by back-to-back knee reconstructions.
The backline utility did not play a single minute this season, snapping his ACL just two days before Brisbane's round-one clash against the Cowboys.
EELS THRILLED WITH BARGAIN BUY
Parramatta believe they have landed one of the bargain buys of 2021, with more potential signings to come.
Isaiah Papali'i might not be a household name among the Eels faithful yet but the former Warriors backrower shapes as a key addition to Brad Arthur's forward stocks.
With the NRL salary cap still unconfirmed for next year, clubs are manoeuvring their rosters. Clubs were this week required to confirm a minimum 24 players of their top 30 squads for next season, after the NRL's new financial year began on November 1. The Eels still have six spots to fill for next season, with some of those expected to go to development players.
However, the Eels are excited about the signing of Papali'i, a highly touted junior who earned New Zealand Test selection in 2018 after just 25 NRL games. The 22-year old hasn't been able to replicate that form since as he was switched from his preferred edge role to the middle this year for the Warriors, but according to Eels football manager Mark O'Neill, that flexibility makes him an instant asset, regardless of position.
"He's got a bit of versatility about him, he can cover the edge and the middle and he's a point of difference - he's got a bit of leg speed," O'Neill said. "He's played a lot of games for a young man, he's an international, but he's a quality guy too.
"When we look at players we try to look for talent plus character, and I think he'll be a great fit for what Brad has created amongst the guys.
"He'll provide BA with a lot of options, either as a middle or an edge."
North Queensland centre Tom Opacic and Salford hooker Joey Lussick also fill out the squad and could shape as shrewd signings of their own. With the club facing the loss of star centre Michael Jennings, Opacic shapes as a possible replacement while Lussick is a valuable addition as the club's back-up hooker.
The Eels were forced to use forward Ray Stone or utility back Will Smith at dummy half when Reed Mahoney was unavailable this year but Lussick, who impressed in his two seasons with the Red Devils, gives them a specialist option should their starter go down.
"He's played in a Challenge Cup final and a Super League grand final, and these days without any second tier football to go from that's as good a form guide as you can go from," O'Neill said.
"He's a good talker defensively, and he was in our system a long time ago so it's good to get him back."
IT'S BACK TO THE BRONCOS FOR MACCA
Andrew McCullough's brief, ill-fated stint at Newcastle has come to an end after confirmation he would return to Brisbane for the 2021 season.
The veteran hooker joined the Knights midway through this year before his 2020 campaign was ended prematurely when he tore his hamstring off the bone in July.
But, under the terms of his unique contract, McCullough has activated a player option in his favour to return to the Broncos if he didn't find an alternate deal for 2021.
McCullough's future became uncertain after former coach Anthony Seibold preferred Jake Turpin and Corey Paix for the No. 9 role. Fellow veteran hooker Issac Luke hasn't been re-signed.
POM PAIR LOOKING TO SHINE IN NRL
There'll be two more Englishmen trying to crack the NRL next year after Wigan product Harry Rushton's Australian visa was confirmed midweek.
Rushton will join Huddersfield's Dominic Young, who will link with Newcastle, in an effort to crack it in the NRL. Where Canberra's recent English imports have been established Super League stars, the 18-year old Rushton has minimal first team experience.
Likewise, the 19-year old Young, a rampaging centre in the mould of Jamal Idris, has only made scant appearances for the Giants after starring as a junior.
Securing a first grade spot might be a tall order for Young in 2021, but he's a player of the future. The Raiders squad has also been bolstered after utility forward Siliva Havili took up his player option for 2021.
Originally published as Transfer talk: Broncos to splash cash, Eels fill gaps