Titans financial crisis, NRL loan advance

Gold Coast Titans Cash Advance NRLThe Gold Coast Titans are the latest NRL club to feel the economic pinch with the NRL forced to provide emergency loans to keep the club running writes John Chelsea.

A recent financial shortfall at the Titans, required the National Rugby League to step in and advance a payment of $2 million to the club to keep the wheels turning.

Hot on the heels of financial trouble at the Cronulla Sharks, for the Titans – the bank denied a payment of around $4 million to them, which was required for developments at Skilled Stadium.

The Titans ambitious plans to build ‘TitansWorld’ on the Gold Coast would cost around $30 million, which is why the club so desperately needed funds. The new development they believed would ultimately bring them strong revenues in the mid-long term.

With $18 million in secured funding from banking institutions, the Titans were on track to embark and complete their ambitious plans. However, the financial crisis gripping the world has seen banks tighten their lending criteria and as such the Titans were left holding their cap in hand.

Titans CEO Michael Searle yesterday confirmed to the NRL and the public that they were only provided with $14 million in loans from the banks, leaving the Gold Coast club $4 million astray.

With no other lenders prepared to provide the money, the Titans had no alternative but to approach the NRL for an advance on their payments.

It’s believed the NRL has only provided $2 million to the Gold Coast Titans at this stage.

“The NRL board agreed to advance the remainder of this year’s grant two weeks ago,” NRL boss David Gallop confirmed.

This latest financial shortfall is yet another reminder at how NRL clubs are flying close to the wind in terms of viability. The current situation may shelve expantion plans for quite some time until some stability returns.

Sam Thaiday stays with Broncos

State of Origin Queensland Rugby LeagueThe Broncos have successfully kept rising star Sam Thaiday in Brisbane, ensuring that the post-Bennett Broncos remain littered with representative players.

With some speculation that Thaiday may look elsewhere for sweeter deals and a feeling that with a new coach at the helm, some players may look for alternative options – this signing is a major positive for the Brisbane club. By locking Thaiday in, the Broncos can continue to build and potentially lure new players around an impressive base of stars at the club.

Sam Thaiday will remain at Red Hill until 2011.

Only 23 years old, Thaiday has achieved plenty in the game at a young age. A fearless runner of the ball, he is in the typical Queensland mould and isn’ t shy to role the sleeves up and getting into the tough work.

“I am very happy to be staying for another two years,” said Thaiday

“There were other options but in my heart Brisbane is where I wanted to be.”

Broncos Chief Executive Bruno Cullen was obviously relieved the club could hang onto Thaiday, confirming the club needed the likes of the stocky forward to plug the gaps left by departing stars in recent years.

Next on the hit-list will be Broncos captain Darren Lockyer and talented back Karmichael Hunt; the two game breakers already in high demand and a key component to the Broncos over the next few years.

NRL changes rules for more tries

While the introduction of two referees to NRL matches this year is expected to bring a flurry of tries through a faster ruck speed, the NRL will also make several other critical rule changes

Rugby League has been one of the few sporting codes willing to alter their rules regularly to improve the game, however 2009 will see a host of changes aimed to bring more attacking play into the game; with the hope to create a much more entertaining package for fans.

The addition of the video referee several years ago was aimed at getting try decisions correct 99% of the time, however the close scrutiny by the video man has led to some extreme frustrations in recent times. There have been so many occasions where a video decision has gone horribly wrong and others where the decision could be anything from a ‘no-try’, ‘try’ or ‘benefit of the doubt’.

Most of the problems from the video referee originate from the misunderstanding of the ‘benefit of the doubt’ rule. When a tough decision arises, instead of looking at 6 or more replays – simply award the benefit of the doubt to the attacker in the first instance.

However, it’s been the introduction of the video referee into general play that has really seen fans tearing their hair out. This recent rule change has seen players ‘faking’ injury to achieve a foul play penalty from the video referee or long delays in general play when the video man checks a potential ball strip by tacklers.

Fortunately this is set to change and the game will once again revert to a faster, flowing style with much less stop-starts at crucial times.

This NRL season sees quite possibly the largest amount of rule modifications ever; with the following alterations set to occur:

* Each match to have two referee’s on the field.

* Relaxing of try ‘grounding’ rule, tries can be scored without control of the ball

* Whoever packs into the scrum must contest the scrum, throwing up an interesting scenario in time sensitive scenarios.

* Reverting back to the old 10m, not 20m in from touch for penalty tap restarts.

* No video referee allowed on ball stripping decisions.

* No video referee allowed for foul play scenarios.

While the introduction of two referees is expected to speed the game up, the other overall improvement should come in general decision making. In the past the pressure on referee’s has been immense, such was the blow torch on the single man in the middle – the odd mistake could be forgiven. With more assistance and less multi-tasking required, referees should breathe slightly easier and as such more decisions should go the right way.

 

 

 

NRL Team Lineups for Trials

We’re fast approaching the NRL 2009 regular season, with the final bouts of pre-season trial matches for 2009 about to get underway. This weekend sees some great match ups and will give a much clearer indication of how your team has prepared for long season ahead. The team and squad lineups for this weekends matches are as follows;

SATURDAY NIGHT 28th February 2009

EELS v ROOSTERS Campbelltown Stadium, 7.30pm

EELS: Luke Burt, Krisnan Inu, Ben Smith, Taulima Tautai, Eric Grothe, Jarryd Hayne, Kris Keating, Nathan Cayless, Matt Keating, Josh Cordoba, Nathan Hindmarsh, Weller Hauraki, Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Jeff Robson, Tim Mannah, Fuifui Moimoi, Joel Reddy, Joe Galuvao, Broderick Wright.

ROOSTERS: Anthony Minichiello, Sam Perrett, Sia Soliola, Mitch Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Setaimata Sa, Mitchell Pearce, Mark O’Meley, James Aubusson, Nate Myles, Lopini Paea, Craig Fitzgibbon, Braith Anasta. Interchange: Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Stanley Waqa, Martin Kennedy, Jordan Tansey, Sonny Tuigamala, Ben Jones.

TITANS v NZ WARRIORS at Oakes Oval, Lismore, 7.30pm

TITANS: William Zillman, Jordan Atkins, Josh Graham, Brett Delaney, Esi Tonga, Mat Rogers, Brad Davis, Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Matthew White, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minichiello, Luke O’Dwyer. Interchange: Ian Donnelly, Brad Meyers, Bodene Thompson, Shannon Walker, Ian Lacey, Will Matthews, David Mead, Sam Tagataese.

WARRIORS (squad): Wade McKinnon, Denan Kemp, Manu Vatuvei, Aidan Kirk, Jerome Ropati, Brent Tate, Aaron Heremaia, Joel Moon, Nathan Fien, Stacey Jones, Leeson Ah Mau, Russell Packer, Steve Price (capt), Sam Rapira, Ian Henderson, Lance Hohaia, Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Ukuma Ta’ai, Micheal Luck

KNIGHTS v SHARKS at Baddeley Park, Cessnock, 7.30pm

KNIGHTS: Kurt Gidley (capt), James McManus, Junior Sau, Adam MacDougall, Akuila Uate, Ben Rogers, Jarrod Mullen, Ben Cross, Isaac De Gois, Daniel Tolar, Steve Simpson, Cory Paterson, Zeb Taia. Interchange: Richard Fa’aoso, Chris Houston, Cameron Ciraldo, Scott Dureau, George Ndaira, Keith Lulia, Jimmy Fawcett, Mark Taufua, Matt Hilder, Constantine Mika, Peter Matautia.

SHARKS: (squad) Brett Kearney, Luke Covell, David Simmons, Ben Pomeroy, Misi Taulapapa, Trent Barrett, Blake Green, Luke Douglas, Corey Hughes, Kade Snowden, Reni Maitua, Anthony Tupou, Paul Gallen, Reece Williams, Bryan Norrie, Ben Ross, Mitch Brown, Jacob Selmes, Terence Seu Seu, Matt Wright, Jak Afamasaga, Blake Ferguson.

RABBITOHS v DRAGONS at ANZ Stadium, 8pm

RABBITOHS: Rhys Wesser, Nathan Merritt, Colin Best, Shaune Corrigan, Fetuli Talanoa, John Sutton, Chris Sandow, Luke Stuart, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi (capt), David Kidwell, Shannan McPherson, David Faalogo, Interchange: Beau Falloon, Eddy Pettybourne, Garret Crossman, Jamie Simpson, Luke Capewell, Chris McQueen, Ben Lowe, Jaiman Lowe, Dave Tyrrell.

DRAGONS: Darius Boyd, Jason Nightingale, Chase Stanley, Matt Cooper, Wendell Sailor, Jamie Soward, Mathew Head, Justin Poore, Dean Young, Michael Weyman, Jeremy Smith, Ben Creagh, Beau Scott. Interchange: Jarrod Saffy, Ricky Thorby, Brett Morris, Michael Lett, Matt Prior, Dan Hunt, Neville Costigan, Luke Priddis, Mickey Paea.

COWBOYS v PANTHERS at Barlow Park, Cairns, 8.30pm

COWBOYS: Ben Farrar, Ty Williams, Ashley Graham, Willie Tonga, Donald Malone, Travis Burns, Johnathan Thurston, Shane Tronc, Aaron Payne, Antonio Kaufusi, Scott Bolton, Ben Harris, Luke O’Donnell. Interchange: Matt Bowen, Carl Webb, Matt Scott, Manase Manuokafoa, James Tamou.

PANTHERS: Michael Gordon, Shane Elford, Michael Jennings, Gavin Cooper, Brad Tighe, Wade Graham, Jarrod Sammut, Tim Grant, Paul Aiton, Frank Puletua, Trent Waterhouse, Nathan Smith, Luke Lewis. Interchange: Petero Civoniceva, Masada Iosefa, Lachlan Coote, Matthew Bell, Maurice Blair, Joseph Paulo, Ben McFadgeon, Adam Woolnough.

BRONCOS v STORM at Stockland Park, Kawana, 8.45pm

BRONCOS: Gerard Beale, Antonio Winterstein, Mick De Vere, Israel Folau, Jharal Yow Yeh, Darren Lockyer, Peter Wallace, Nick Kenny, Aaron Gorrell, Joel Clinton, Sam Thaiday, Ben Te’o, Corey Parker. Interchange: Lagi Setu, Aaron Sweeney, Ashton Sims, Alex Glenn, Andrew McCullough, David Taylor, Guy Williams.

STORM: Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Willie Isa, Will Chambers, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Adam Blair, Cameron Smith, Brett White, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange (from): Joseph Tomane, Dane Nielsen, James Maloney, Wairangi Koopu, Kevin Proctor, Scott Anderson, Jeff Lima, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Aiden Tolman.

RAIDERS v BULLDOGS at Meakin Park, Brisbane, 8pm

RAIDERS: David Milne, Phil Graham, Adrian Purtell, Joel Monaghan, Justin Carney, Terry Campese (capt), Marc Herbert, David Shillington, Glen Buttriss, Scott Logan, Glen Turner, Bronson Harrison, Josh Miller. Interchange: Stuart Flanagan, Trevor Thurling, Joe Picker, Dane Tilse, Daniel Joyce, Brett Kelly, Josh McCrone.

BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Josh Morris, Jamal Idris, Matt Utai, Ben Roberts, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Hannant, Mick Ennis, Michael Hodgson, Gary Warburton, Andrew Ryan, Lee Te Maari. Interchange: Brent Crisp, Chris Armit, Daniel Holdsworth, Charlie Leaeno, Conrad Taakimoeaka, Yileen Gordon, Bryson Goodwin, Ben Barba.

Warriors set to dump Michael Witt

Michael Witt NZ Warriors linked to Penrith PanthersOnly 2 weeks out from NRL kick-off, it seems the Warriors are ready to ditch Michael Witt from their season plans writes Gavin Fox. Witt has struggled to really find a home in recent years, with the instinctive half failing to secure long stints at both Parramatta and Manly.

Originally a half-back, Witt has spent more time at pivot with the Warriors and was seemingly travelling nicely with the club – but it seems coach Ivan Cleary doesn’t have the Austrlian in his plans for 2009.

Witt hasn’t played in any of the top line NZ Warriors trials this year and the arrival of Joel Moon who coach Cleary sees as a possible halves pairing for Fien could be the reason that Witt is on the outer.

Set to play in only a lower grade trial match this weekend, it’s believed Penrith have put the feelers out for Witt if the half should return to Australia. The Panthers continue their seemingly endless search for a halves solution and Witt could be a viable option.

Obviously frustrated, Witt blew the whistle on the situation earlier this week when he spoke on Auckland radio.

“I haven’t played in any of the trials and I guess that would suggest that Ivan doesn’t really have me in his plans for this year, and that he is looking at other players in that position,” Witt stated.

“He said that the club is going in a certain direction and unfortunately Michael Witt is not part of that. He hasn’t broken it down a hell of a lot but I guess they are looking at some new options in that position at five-eighth and I’m not really one of those.”

Apparently UK Super League outfit Hull has also been in touch with Witt, but at this stage the out of favour Warrior isn’t keen to head to England. While only early stages, Witt believes he will ride out the current pressure and hopefully force his way back into the side through more hard work.

“I’ve had a really good pre-season and I’ve been training hard so I’m just going to try and put my best foot forward and see what eventuates,” he said.

It’s a move that will surprise many, with Stacey Jones back with the NZ Warriors for 2009 and the strong form of Nathan Fiend more recently in the halves – the rotation of those two, with Witt playing at no. 6 was a combination many opposing teams would fear.

With such an elusive style and a smart kicking game, Witt does have plenty to offer. However, at this stage – the Warriors trash might just be the Panthers’ treasure if they can lure the pivot back to Sydney.

Terry Campese set for superstardom

Canberra Raiders NRL 2009Judging by the the rise and rise of Terry Campese, 2009 could be the year the Raiders five-eighth reaches superstardom writes John Chelsea.

Ready for more game-time in the Raiders’ next pre-season hit-out, Campese admits he is a tad ‘rusty’ from a long off-season – but the confidence gained by receiving a Kangaroos jersey last year is set to launch Campese to new heights.

With a surname such as his, there was always going to be a focus on the talented player. But Campese has quietly and mostly successfully gone about his business in the often forgotten Raider-town, until his form in 2008 demanded he was picked for the Kangaroos and has since given him a whole new status in the game.

Campese got through a 50 minute stint in a trial against Brisbane last week. There were flashes of his brilliance, but the most interesting aspect is how opposing players look upon Campese. It seems the dynamic no. 6 is beginning to put plenty of doubt into opponents minds when he gets the ball, one of the few remaining big, rangey pivots – Campese has what most players want ‘time’ and ‘options’.

It’s this new status for Campese that could see him break through for a NSW State of Origin jersey in 2009.

New coach David Furner, along with new recruits Bronson Harrison, Stuart Flanagan and David Shillington will have a big baring on how far Campese can take his rep opportunities in 2009. While there is no questioning the ability of the skillful stand-off, when teams are winning and getting prime time Channel 9 slots – it thrusts their playmakers squarely into the limelight. This has been an issue for the Raiders, who struggle for free-to-air coverage at the best of times.

Keen to get back on track for his 2009 preparations; Campese is keen to get more gametime against the Bulldogs to hone his fitness and skills.

It will be the Raiders last hit-out before they take on the Wests Tigers in Round 1 of the NRL.

“I was pretty happy with my game against the Broncos and I’m just looking forward to playing again this week,” Campese said.

“I just want to improve my talk in attack and I was a bit rusty with my execution on the weekend.”That’s the good thing about the trials, hopefully you get your two bad games out before the season starts.

“Hopefully I get myself on target for round one.”Campese remains unconcerned who starts the season partnering him in the halves, saying he had formed good combinations with both Marc Herbert and Josh McCrone.Raiders coach David Furner is likely to name both his halfbacks in an extended 19-man squad today, giving them one last chance to stake claims for the No.7 jersey.

“I’ve played with both of them in reserve grade, we’ve all spent a bit of time together,” Campese said.

“It was good to play with both the boys, everyone has their own style, but they’re both good young halves that can get the team around the park.

“That’s what you need in a halfback and I think they’re both ready to step up.”With competition for positions heating up across the field, Campese said he didn’t envy Furner’s task of cutting back his forward pack this week.

Campese talked up the prospects of Dane Tilse; confirming the former Knight had trained well in the off-season and put in a top showing against Brisbane in last weeks trial. With an extra year under his belt in the ACT, Tilse could be another on the rise in Raider-town.

While they were beaten by the Broncos, Campese was happy with the combinations and overall showing from his side in the match.

“It was pretty good for our first trial, there’s some areas that we need to work on, but for the majority of the game I thought we played pretty well.

“The new guys like David Shillington, Bronson Harrison and Stuart Flanagan got their first hit-out and they’ll improve this week. I think all our forwards were good and big Dane Tilse played really well.”

Matai to remain ‘permanently’ injured

Manly centre Steve Matai might be known for his elusive footwork and rushing defensive hits – but the feared Kiwi star has quickly gained a reputation as a player that is ‘always’ injured

In any Steve Matai appearance, you are virtually guaranteed to see him go down with some sort of injury. You’ll often see the talented centre sitting on the deck clutching either his head, neck, shoulder or ankles. And this looks set to continue, with Matai being told yesterday he will never fully recover from neck and shoulder injuries which have plauged for most of his short career.

Regardless, the Kiwi Representative has vowed to soldier on and tough it out in the World Club Challenge this Monday, as he tries to bag a 3rd major title in just a few short months. Minus the injuries and hot temper, Matai has the chance to become one of the premier centres in Rugby League.

Matai has continued to seek advice on his medical situation from Manly Sea Eagles doctor Paul Bloomfield, and as the 2009 season approaches the two have been in close contact.

Coming off the bench against the Harlequins last week, Matai was in impressive form – scoring a long range try, but again breakdown during the match and feeling heavy after effects from the hit-out.

“There’s a lot of scar tissue around there.” Matai told the media, confirming the problems discovered in his neck and shoulder.

“It’s never going to be 100 per cent.” shrugged Matai

Seemingly getting used to the pain, Matai explained how he continued on in the Rugby League World Cup tournament, even though the problem was extremely inhibitive.

“I was getting needled every now and then with the shoulder” he said.

“I cant really go 100 per cent. Hopefully I can get the strength up.” the Manly centre confirmed.

“The best test for it is to go out there and go hard. I did that on the weekend and I’m hoping to do it this weekend as well.”

When asked about a possible rematch with Leeds centre Keith Senior (the pair fighting during the 2006 tri-nations), Matai was quick to dismiss any rough stuff – saying any fans hoping for fireworks would be sadly disappointed.

Quickly gaining a reputation as a firebrand, Matai is known for his hard hits when rushing out of the defence line – however, his method at times failed and many opposing sides in the NRL are coaching to ‘bait’ Matai out of the line, so an overlap can be gained on his flank. There is no doubt that Senior and the Leeds side will try to exploit the same opportunity.

Leeds however have problems of their own, with new star recruit Danny Buderus ruled out and former Warriors star Ali Lauititi also in doubt.

As yet Manly have not named their side, however coach Des Hasler is believed to be keen to throw forgotten man George Rose into the action and gauge his progress after a long injury layoff in 2008.

Bunnies throw Sutton into five-eighth

Roy Asotasi SouthsSouths coach Jason Taylor has elected to use John Sutton at pivot for this weeks Charity Shield clash against St George Illawarra writes Peter Roy.

While Souths have toyed with the idea of moving backrower Sutton into the pivot role, the injury to Craig Wing has forced their hand this time round and Sutton will get first crack at the no.6

Coach Jason Taylor will send out a near full strength side as the Bunnies take on a Dragons side in hot pre-season former. New custodian Rhys Wesser has been named at the back and former Raiders flyer Colin Best gets a chance to show his wares early on.

Try scoring freak Nathan Merritt gets his first run, as does forward Roy Asotasi with the Kiwi star named as captain for the major pre-season match.

The biggest challenge for the Bunnies this year will be staying out of the media spotlight. With massive restructuring of the back-office in recent years, heavy recruitment and a long list of stars has meant every result has come under the microscope. With a few years under their belt as a squad, combined with the fact there are many changes around other NRL clubs for 2009 – the Rabbitohs may just get a chance to play with much less expectation on their shoulders, who knows this could be the final piece of the puzzle to take them all the way.

Kick-off is at 8pm on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.

Rabbitohs

1. Rhys Wesser
2. Nathan Merritt
3. Colin Best
4. Shaune Corrigan
5. Fetuli Talanoa
6. John Sutton
7. Chris Sandow
8. Luke Stuart
9. Issac Luke
10. Roy Asotasi (c)
11. David Kidwell
12. Shannan McPherson
13. David Fa’alogo

Interchange:

14. Beau Falloon
15. Eddy Pettybourne
16. Garret Crossman
17. Jamie Simpson
18. Luke Capewell
19. Chris McQueen
21. Ben Lowe
22. Jaiman Lowe
23. Dave Tyrrell

Tigers to be tested as Sheens adds duties

Wests Tigers Tim Sheens CoachThe extra duties now sitting with Tim Sheens as the Australian Rugby League coach could put added pressure on the Wests Tigers writes John Chelsea from NRL News.

There is no questioning the wealth of experience that comes with a man such as Tim Sheens. Nearing the ripe old age of 60, Sheens sits along side the likes of Wayne Bennett and Brian Smith as the elder statesmen of the clipboard ranks. He has a handful of Premierships and has seen almost every situation on the Rugby League field.

But will the added duties of the Australian coaching job in addition to his City Origin requirements hurt the Wests Tigers as they desperately try to secure a Top 8 finals berth for the first time in 4 years?

Not only will Sheens be away from his side for a handful of games throughout the year, of bigger concern is the fact that Sheens will get a big say in which players make up his City Origin and Kangaroos squad. This should ring alarm bells for Wests Tigers fans, it’s natural for a coach to push for some of his own players to get a gig in representative teams – he knows how they play, he trusts them and it gives the player added experience, something that in the longer term ultimately benefits club and player alike.

Wests have some players knocking at the door of stardom, youngsters Dean Collis and Chris Lawrence are two rising talents that could easily be drafted into the City Origin or Kangaroos team as ‘bolters’ – obviously with the influence of Sheens.

If something like this happens, you get a coaching and player drain at the Wests Tigers – making their 2009 NRL campaign that much more difficult.

Ricky Stuart used his position as Kangaroos coach to draft in Paul Gallen and Greg Bird, it may have improved the experience and stature of both players – but time away from club and added injury woes were the downside for their employer, the Sharks.

The other concern Wests Tigers fans should have is the added pressure that will weigh on Tim Sheens’ shoulders around Test time. While some mistakenly think that taking the Australian coaching role is a walk in the park, nothing could be further from the truth.

While the coach and Australian selectors have a wealth of talent to pick from, with that comes the expectation that the Roos will simply win every game easily.

The Kiwis and Lions both love being the underdog, it’s certainly been a thorn in the Roos side for several years now. The Rugby League World Cup a catalyst for the danger that comes with being the ‘tall poppy’.

Tim Sheens will almost certainly lose sleep over his Australian commitments, concern about selections and then ultimately about the backlash that will come with a loss. Sure, Sheens is Mr. Experience and will handle things better than most – but the Tigers will certainly feel some affects from their coaches added duties.

While Tim Sheens and the Wests Tigers continue to keep their critics at bay with the memories of winning the NRL in 2005 – they have ultimately failed for the last 3 years and for coach Sheens 2005 is actually the only time in over a decade of NRL coaching that he has managed to get his team into the Top 8 playoffs.

So while Sheens might have been the best man for the Australian Kangaroos coaching job and the majority of the Rugby League world accepted the decision positively, spare a thought for Wests Tigers fans – as the ramifications for them will be felt in the short term.

Sharks could make play at Crocker

As former Storm forward Michael Crocker continues his battle to secure a UK visa, the Cronulla Sharks are believed to be waiting in the wings to make an offer to the former Australian representative

With a strong off-season recruiting drive that netted them Trent Barrett, Anthony Toupu and Reni Maitua – the Sharks have an attractive team that has been on the improve in recent years with Ricky Stuart at the helm. The salary cap makes any extensive recruitment hard, but by grabbing 3 former Australian representatives – Cronulla have basically pulled off a miracle.

However, it could be set to get even sweeter for the club.

Yesterday, the Sharks cut promising youngster Fraser Anderson on the grounds he accepted a Rugby Union deal to commence later this year. Certainly an agressive play, it’s believed Cronulla could be setting themselves up to make an offer to Crocker should his application for a UK visa totally fail.

Crocker has a strong relationship with Ricky Stuart from their time at the Roosters and the former Melbourne Storm forward would be more likely to base himself out of Sydney should his Super League plans unravel. The Premiership winning backrower would have to be open to a significantly reduced deal to allow the club to sneak him in under the cap, but the foundations at the Sharks certainly seem impressive and with his presence bringing 4 Australian represenatives into the ranks – this side genuinely have a shot at the NRL title.

While Ricky Stuarts side copped a hiding in Darwin last weekend, their next hit-out is widely anticipated as several new and existing star players come into the ranks. The likes of Gallen, Toupu and Maitua are expected to give the Sharks the attacking prowess they lacked last year. Amazingly, Cronulla secured a Top 4 position in 2008 but had the lowest try scoring tally of any team. Their defence is already world class and the new comers are expected to give them the killer punch they need.

It’s believed Crocker is watching closely as former NRL star Greg Bird attempts to obtain entry into the Super League through France, a ploy, if successful that could see many other players use the loophole to get around strict new UK visa regulations.

Cronulla aren’t the only club making room under the salary cap, with the Wests Tigers another club trying to free up some breathing space. For the Tigers, it’s more crucial as they battle to balance their overloaded books. Talk continues around Liam Fulton as they try to push the utility player towards the Super League, before the salary cap cops arrive on their door step.

The salary cap pressures and opportunities it offers will see clubs take a much more aggressive stance on player misbehaviour. As the kick-off for the 2009 NRL season nears, expect any negative headlines for a player to result in his sacking from the club if it provides an opportunity for them to make room under the salary cap and potentially snare a new available player on the open market.

Crocker isn’t the only one waiting in the wings, the likes of Todd Carney and Greg Bird are sitting by with hefty price tags and proven skill that will be raring to go in 2010. So buckle up, the NRL cap wars are set to get interesting.