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.