NRL 2022: Bulldogs circling Sharks teen Chevy Stewart, Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle shopped around

The Bulldogs are close to securing an exciting Sharks teenager as their future fullback, while a Tiger is being shopped around to clubs for an immediate transfer.

Canterbury are targeting a 16-year-old from the Sharks as their future fullback and replacement to Matt Dufty.

Cronulla Harold Matthews captain Chevy Stewart is in the final stages of negotiations to sign with the Bulldogs, who are going all-in on poaching the rising star.

The talented Kurnell Stingrays junior’s bid to secure his future comes amid a tumultuous fortnight that included the gifted fullback being sent-off in the Sharks’ Harold Matthews Cup grand final loss to Western Suburbs for dissent.

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A dangerous ballrunner, Stewart won the Harold Matthews Cup Coaches award in 2020.

The Sharks have been eager to retain Stewart, while he has also been courted by the Raiders.

Exciting Sharks junior Chevy Stewart is on the Bulldogs’ radar. Picture: Monique Harmer
Exciting Sharks junior Chevy Stewart is on the Bulldogs’ radar. Picture: Monique Harmer

But it’s the Bulldogs, with a less-congested pathway to the NRL, that is swaying Stewart towards moving to Belmore.

The Raiders boast Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Xavier Savage and Sam Gash within their fullback structure while the Sharks have fullback Will Kennedy, City under-18s and 2020 Harold Matthews captain Siteni Taukamo and Kade Dykes waiting in the wings.

Having developed Stewart through their elite junior system, Cronulla were hoping the teenager would continue his path towards the NRL in the Shire.

TIGER’S MANAGER MAKES SURPRISE MOVE

Overlooked Wests Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle has been offered as an immediate fix for the Dragons and Raiders.

It’s understood Liddle’s management - not the Tigers - have shopped the 25-year-old dummy-half to rival clubs.

Liddle is contracted to the Tigers until the end of 2023, but Penrith’s Api Koroisau will also join the club next year.

Jacob Liddle is not getting on the park with the Tigers. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Jacob Liddle is not getting on the park with the Tigers. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Liddle has played just five games this season, after a knee injury setback in the pre-season with his most recent NRL outing with the Tigers in their 12-6 loss to the Dragons in round eight.

Liddle, who made his first grade debut with the club in 2016, has been left in the reserves for Magic Round behind starting hooker Jake Simpkin.

The Raiders are stretched at dummy-half with Tom Starling and makeshift hooker Adam Elliott covering for the season-ending loss of Josh Hodgson.

The Dragons are reliant on veteran hooker Andrew McCullough with utilities Moses Mbye and Jayden Sullivan their next best options.

DOLPHINS LINKED TO BACKROW BEAST

Parramatta are facing a battle to keep Ryan Matterson with Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett launching a $1.5 million poaching raid on the Eels back-rower.

News Corp can reveal Bennett has held talks with Matterson’s management as the super coach eyes off the versatile Eels utility to be a starting member of the Dolphins pack for their entry to the NRL next season.

The Eels have been rocked by a forward exodus with Isaiah Papali’i (Tigers), Marata Niukore (Warriors), Oregon Kaufusi (Cronulla), Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs) joining rival clubs next season and Matterson could also hit the exits.

The Eels have yet to table a formal offer for Matterson, who has interest from five NRL clubs, but are ready to open talks with the 27-year-old in a bid to keep him in the blue and gold in 2023.

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has his eye on Ryan Matterson.
Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has his eye on Ryan Matterson.

The Dolphins, however, are a genuine threat, with Bennett open to a three-year deal worth around $500,000 a season to make Matterson a foundation player at the NRL’s 17th team.

Matterson was formally put up for sale on Tuesday - his management emailed Parramatta’s 16 NRL rivals offering his services - and the Dolphins have wasted no time bidding for the Eels forward’s services.

Matterson’s manager Chris Orr said the veteran of 127 NRL games has not ruled out staying at Parramatta but confirmed his interest in a possible career move to the Dolphins.

“Ryan is in great form and with that you would expect interest coming his way,” said Orr of PSM.

“The Dolphins are a new player in the NRL market and with Wayne Bennett and Terry Reader (Dolphins CEO) leading the way I am sure they will be successful.

“Ryan has a great group of players around him and a very good coach at the Eels in Brad Arthur.

“We are certainly considering extending his stay in the blue and gold and we will hold talks with Mark O’Neill (Eels football manager) in coming days to see what that looks like.”

The Eels are yet to offer Matterson a new contract, while five other clubs are keen on the star backrower. Picture: Getty Images.
The Eels are yet to offer Matterson a new contract, while five other clubs are keen on the star backrower. Picture: Getty Images.

While the Dolphins have been pilloried for failing to land a marquee signing thus far, they have secured premiership-winning pedigree in the forwards with the signing of Storm trio Kenny and Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi.

The Redcliffe-based operation has also snared Souths grand-final prop Mark Nicholls, while Eels ironman Ray Stone, currently sidelined with an ACL injury, has inked a deal with the Dolphins. Now Matterson could be the second Parramatta player to buy into Bennett’s vision for the Dolphins.

The Dolphins view Matterson as a possible starting No.13. The former NSW City Origin forward has a relationship with Dolphins recruitment chief Peter O’Sullivan, who first signed Matterson to the Roosters in 2016.

Matterson has come off the bench for Parramatta over the past month and has enjoyed stints in the midfield rather than the edges.

“I’m more involved,” he said recently. “I get my hands on the ball a lot more and I get to choose whether to run or pass. Back row at the moment people are running lines and you’re a bit more of a crash player. But I enjoy being a ballplayer.”

COULD CRICHTON BE MARQUEE MAN FOR DOLPHINS

He is being targeted to become the Dolphins’ first marquee signing – an $850,000 a year star earmarked as the club’s long-term fullback.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Redcliffe-based Dolphins are ready to start talking with Penrith’s champion centre Stephen Crichton, who comes off contract next season.

Crichton, 21, could earn up to $850,000 a season by joining the NRL newcomers compared to a deal at Penrith tipped to be about $600,000 a season.

He would play fullback to justify a hefty pay packet.

The Panthers desperately want to retain Crichton, and have plans to try and re-sign him alongside Brian To’o and Izack Tago.

But already have four players – Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo – on massive contracts.

SCROLL DOWN TO READ THE PANTHERS’ RETENTION PLAY

The Dolphins could target Stephen Crichton as their first marquee signing. Picture: NRL Imagery
The Dolphins could target Stephen Crichton as their first marquee signing. Picture: NRL Imagery

Crichton may be the victim of a club struggling to squeeze a highly successful roster under its NRL salary cap.

Penrith also wants to re-sign its other rising centre, Izack Tago, who also comes off contract after next season.

If a deal can be struck, Crichton would become the big-name recruit the Dolphins have craved. Club can start to formally approach Crichton from November 1 this year.

There are preliminary moves already underway about Crichton’s possible move north.

Crichton – who played juniors with the St Clair Comets - would seek a huge deal to leave given he is a local junior who has established himself at Penrith over the past three years.

And Crichton would also struggle to extricate himself from teammates who grew up around Mt Druitt – Luai, Spencer Leniu and Brian To’o.

Crichton said just last year: “This is my home. I‘ve grown up in this club and built strong relationships with everyone here. I’ve never wanted to play anywhere else.”

A source with knowledge said: “Joining the Dolphins is a realistic option for Stephen because Penrith wouldn’t be able to get close to the money the Dolphins could offer.”

The Dolphins have already missed out on big names including Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Harry Grant, Brandon Smith and Kalyn Ponga.

The Dolphins are ready to begin talking with Crichton, with offers of up to $850k and the fullback spot on the table. Picture: Getty Images.
The Dolphins are ready to begin talking with Crichton, with offers of up to $850k and the fullback spot on the table. Picture: Getty Images.

With Latrell Mitchell out injured, Crichton has emerged as a genuine contender for a NSW centre spot this year. He was part of an extended Blues squad in 2020 but did not play.

Crichton - who signed a two-year extension in February last year - will line up at centre for Penrith in Saturday night’s game-of-the-year against Melbourne in Brisbane.

He will return to Suncorp Stadium with fond memories having scored an intercept try which pushed Penrith to their 2021 grand final win.

Leniu, Tago, Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen and Charlie Staines all come off contract at Penrith after next season.

Crichton’s teammate, Robert Jennings, signed a three-year deal with the Dolphins several days ago.

The Dolphins on Wednesday announced the signing of young North Queensland back rower Connelly Lemuelu for the 2023 season.

PANTHERS HOPING TO LAND CONTRACT TRIPLE PLAY

James Phelps

The Panthers will go all out to keep their all-star backline intact until at least 2024 with a bid to lock down Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton and Izack Tago in a bold triple play.

Despite concerns the salary cap would savage the NRL’s most exciting backline following the emergence of new sensations Tago and Taylan May, The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Panthers have hatched a plan to keep the NRL’s most lethal backline together for at least another two years.

The management firm which represents To’o, Crichton and Tago began negotiating new deals for the three backline stars last week and were told of the club’s long term plan to keep the backline that also features Taylan May, Dylan Edwards, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai together.

To’o, Crichton and Tago are all set to come off contract at the end of 2023.

The Panthers won’t let their star backline be torn apart without a fight. Picture: Getty Images.
The Panthers won’t let their star backline be torn apart without a fight. Picture: Getty Images.

“The club and I have met and we begun discussions about all three,” said Liam Ayoub.

“Extension negotiations are underway and all three are hopeful of staying. We have not spoken to any other clubs and the Panthers have indicated that they have room to keep them all together long term.”

The Daily Telegraph also understands that the Panthers are looking to extend boom winger May, who is off-contract at the end of this year.

Star halfback Cleary earlier this year admitted he took an “unders” deal with the club when he re-signed until the end of 2027 in a bid to keep his backline together.

“The last thing I wanted was people getting squeezed out because of what I was on,” Cleary said.

“It’s a hard thing when you’re in a successful team, everyone’s value goes up and especially people you’ve grown up with.

“You become good mates with everyone in the team, you don’t want to see anyone leave.”

Penrith are looking to extend the contracts of outside backs Izack Tago, Taylan May, Brian To’o and Stephen Crichton. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Penrith are looking to extend the contracts of outside backs Izack Tago, Taylan May, Brian To’o and Stephen Crichton. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Cleary was hopeful that the club could retain the off-contract player beginning with May.

“People like him, young kids who come up through the area, we absolutely want people like him playing for the Panthers,” Cleary said.

“I love playing alongside him and I’d hate for him to play anywhere else.

“He’s been a massive surprise packet for the outside world. He’s been doing this for the last few years at training.”

Originally published as NRL 2022: Bulldogs circling Sharks teen Chevy Stewart, Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle shopped around

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