NRL 2022: Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Xavier Coates sign new deals at Melbourne Storm
Wayne Bennett’s quest to land a marquee signing at the Dolphins has taken another hit after two prime targets signed new long-term deals at the Storm.
Wayne Bennett is under mounting pressure to deliver a marquee signing for the Dolphins after two big-name targets, Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes, pledged their long-term futures to Melbourne.
The Dolphins had expressed interest in Grant and Hughes, but the Storm have staved off a poaching raid, securing the star duo, plus former Broncos winger Xavier Coates, in an $8 million-plus retention coup.
Dolphins coach Bennett had already landed a triple blow on Melbourne, poaching forwards Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi, and the NRL’s 17th team were prepared to pay almost $1 million each for Grant and Hughes.
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But the Storm will not have their roster torn apart, with Hughes and Coates signing until the end of 2026, while Queensland Origin hooker Grant has committed to Melbourne until the end of 2025.
Three of Melbourne’s playmaking Big Four – Hughes, Grant and fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen (2025) – are secured for the foreseeable future.
Now the Storm will turn their attention to the other member of the star quartet, five-eighth Cameron Munster, who has bounced back strongly from his off-season white powder scandal and rehab stint.
Storm chairman Matt Tripp was determined to repel a big-name exodus to the Dolphins after Bennett successfully poached Melbourne’s Kaufusi and the Bromwich brothers.
“We now have a quality spine, our skipper (Christian Welch), an exciting winger (Coates) and some great young talent all locked away for a few years,” Tripp said.
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“We know the three are quality players and, more importantly, quality people. We are proud of the strong culture we have built across the entire club and will always work hard to keep good people.”
Bennett and Dolphins recruitment boss Peter O’Sullivan have their work cut out formulating the expansion newcomers’ inaugural roster for their entry to the NRL in 2023.
Since winning admission to the NRL, the Dolphins have signed just eight players. They have exactly seven months to find another 28 players and fill their 36-man full-time squad to report for pre-season training on November 1.
It is understood the Dolphins tabled two attractive offers to Grant in a bid to lure the Rockhampton product back to Queensland. Their second offer was around $900,000 a season, but the classy hooker showed loyalty to the Storm club that gave Grant his big break.
“We have a core group of players who have now signed up for a few extra years which definitely helped with my decision,” Grant said.
“If we can keep that core group together for a long period of time, it only helps with getting the success we all want.
“The club gave me an opportunity when I started with under 20s and then again when I was on loan at Wests Tigers, so to come back and get the opportunity to stay longer is really exciting.”
The Dolphins viewed Hughes as a possible halfback option for their second season in 2024, but the champion No.7 said he was relishing life in Melbourne as the successor to Cooper Cronk.
“I have a lot of faith in the players coming through and the coaching staff, so it was an easy decision to make in the end,” Hughes said.
“The club is really well run and we wanted to keep as many of the boys here as possible, so it’s great to sign on with the other boys.
“With a few leaders moving on next year, we all have to step up and I need to be one of those to take on that challenge.”
HUGHES DEAL PUTS HIM JUST BEHIND MUNSTER
Hughes ended months of speculation over his future by formally agreeing terms on a deal thought to be worth $3.6 million.
Hughes initially shocked Melbourne last November, informing the club he would not take up a contract option in his favour, opening the door for Bennett’s Dolphins to lodge interest in the halfback for the 2024 season.
But the Storm have flexed their muscle, offering Hughes a pay rise on the final two years of his existing deal, as well as a two-year extension to keep him at Melbourne until the end of 2026.
The parties had discussed a six-year deal, but Hughes has opted for a four-year term, with his management shaking hands with Storm chairman Matt Tripp on a multimillion-dollar contract that could see the champion No.7 finish his career in Melbourne.
It is understood Hughes’ upgrade is worth $900,000 a season, making him the club’s second highest-paid player behind halves partner Cameron Munster, who is on $1.1 million this year.
The retention of Hughes, who steered Melbourne to the 2020 premiership, is a blow for the Dolphins, who held preliminary talks with the halfback’s management three months ago.
Dolphins super coach Bennett has already landed three strikes on Melbourne, poaching forwards Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi, and the NRL’s 17th team were prepared to pay $1 million a season for Hughes.
But the 27-year-old was prepared to accept less to stay loyal to Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who has turned a once injury-prone fringe first grader into the code’s most dangerous running halfback.
Hughes had played just two NRL games for the Titans and Cowboys when he arrived in Melbourne. He has since added another 85 matches for the Storm and has stepped-up as a superb successor to legendary No.7 Cooper Cronk.
STORM WARNING: NAS TOLD TO PLAY NICE
Melbourne Storm skipper Jesse Bromwich will speak to Nelson Asofa-Solomona in a bid to sharpen his teammate’s discipline after the fellow front-rower controversially avoided suspension this week.
The NRL believed the Kiwi international should have been sin binned and missed games for a high shot on Parramatta’s Makahesi Makatoa last weekend.
Instead, Asofa-Solomona accepted an early plea on a grade one careless high tackle charge, which attracted a $1000 fine.
But on Monday, the game’s head of football Graham Annesley revealed the match review committee deemed Asofa-Solomona’s contact with Makatoa’s head as ‘low to moderate’, a ruling ‘NRL management’ did not agree with.
Storm is already down on forwards at the moment, with co-captain Christian Welch (achilles), Tui Kamikamica (stood down) and Tom Eisenhuth (calf) all unavailable.
Bromwich said they could not afford any self-inflicted wounds, with Asofa-Solomona considered fortunate by some to be able to face the Bulldogs at AAMI Park on Sunday.
“The thing with Nelson is we want him to be aggressive, but we also need him on the field,” Bromwich said.
“Last year we had a couple of times when Nelson was suspended through discipline I guess.
“I think I will have a bit of a chat to him during the week sometime because we love him being aggressive and the way we plays, but we need him on the field.
“We’ve got a few of our ruck forwards down at the moment and our middle boys, and Nelson is one of the better ones in the competition.
“So when he’s on fire, he’s just an absolute weapon for us.”
Former Storm premiership winger Josh Addo-Carr will return to AAMI Park on Sunday for the first time in a Bulldogs jersey.
“He was a big part of our club and our fans all love him and all the boys love him too,” Bromwich said. But once we step on the field we have to put that aside for 80 minutes.
“My job in the middle is if I get my hands on him, I need to be really rough with him.”
Storm will host a 10-year reunion for their 2012 premiership side this weekend with 15 of the 17 players expected to attend.
Bromwich is the last remaining Storm player who was a part of the 2012 side.
“It feels like it was just yesterday that we were playing in the grand final against the Bulldogs,” he said. “Time has just flown.”
FOXX HUNTS OVERDUE TRY ON FAMILIAR TURF
Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr has spoken of his love for Melbourne and his respect for Craig Bellamy as he attempts to break one of the longest scoring droughts of his career against his former club this weekend.
Addo-Carr was transformed from fringe first-grader to NSW and Australian representative at the Storm, spending five years with the club, winning a premiership and scoring 96 tries.
He will return to AAMI Park on Sunday for the first time as part of a Bulldog side which has shown encouraging form over the opening three weeks of the NRL season, albeit with precious little to celebrate on a personal note.
Addo-Carr has gone five games without a try stretching back to his final two appearances for Melbourne – the longest try-less streak of his career was six games in the 2018 season.
Should be break the drought in Melbourne, it will no doubt be a bittersweet feeling.
“It definitely holds a special place in my heart,” Addo-Carr said.
“Some of my best memories in my life have been down in Melbourne. I’m so close with everyone down there, from the head coach right down to administration.
“They’re like family, but I had to move back home. After I lost my grandfather, that was the biggest reason I wanted to move back.
“Life is just too short and I just wanted be with my family at the time. I had to wait another two years to see out my contract.
“It is what it is. It was definitely a tough decision. I’m so close to everyone back in Melbourne. It’s sweet.”
Addo-Carr conceded it was difficult to tell Bellamy and head of football Frank Ponissi that he was leaving. He has no regrets, however.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m absolutely loving my time in Sydney and I see the potential we have here at the Bulldogs. I can’t wait until we start thriving.
“We’re just so close to putting the cherry on top of the cake. I feel like we’re getting better and better every week.
“You have to be at your best every week to play first grade and we’re so close.”
The Bulldogs have produced some encouraging signs over the opening three weeks of the season, but they face a lift in quality against the Storm.
Melbourne are a perennial top four side, something Addo-Carr knows only too well.
“If we turn up with a good attitude and play the Bulldogs footy we want to play, I feel like we can beat the Storm,” he said.
He doesn’t expect a lot of contact with his former teammates this week. Come game time, he will be doing his best to avoid good mate Justin Olam.
“There’s a few cheeky fellas down there,” Addo-Carr said.
“I talk to them all the time so it’s nothing new. I’m sure they’re going to try to smash me.”
On the hard-hitting Olam, he said: “He’s on the other side of the field, thank God. He’s my brother. I love him no matter what, and I’m lucky he’s on the other side of the field so I don’t have to run straight at him.
“I am so close with everyone down there. It’s going to be so weird, but it’s just another footy game. I’m a Bulldog now and I’ve got to back this side no matter what.
“I’m absolutely loving my time here teaching these fellas how to play football and helping them become first grade football players.”
Originally published as NRL 2022: Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Xavier Coates sign new deals at Melbourne Storm