NRL 2022: Sharks set to extend Briton Nikora and Jack Williams

The Sharks are preparing for the future with two off contract players in their sights. See the latest transfer news in MARKET WATCH.

Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon is preparing to double-down on future-proofing his pack with Kiwi international Briton Nikora and power forward Jack Williams poised to extend their future with the club.

The off-contract duo are on the verge of signing three and two year deals respectively.

Nikora had told The Sunday Telegraph last month of his desire to stay in the Shire despite interest from the Wests Tigers.

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“I’ve been here since I was 17..this is my home,’’ Nikora said.

Wanting to settle his future, Nikora, who represented the Kiwis in 2019, told his management this week to finalise his new contract with Cronulla, which will keep him at the Sharks until the end of 2025.

Briton Nikora is set to remain at the Sharks. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Briton Nikora is set to remain at the Sharks. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Williams, 25, is on the verge of signing a new two-year deal having joined the club from Canberra in 2018.

Nominated for the club’s Player of the Year award, the Porter-Gallen medal last year, Williams enjoyed an outstanding 2021 season, averaging 113-metres per-game.

Ill-timed knee surgery prior to round one hampered Williams’ start to this season, however with a month of football now under his belt, the hard-running middle-forward has become a vital member of Fitzgibbon’s top-four squad.

Both forwards will line-up on Sunday against the Raiders at Magic Round in Brisbane.

Dolphins poach second Cowboy, eye a third

The Dolphins have struck another recruitment blow on Queensland rivals the Cowboys by poaching hulking back-rower Connelly Lemuelu as Wayne Bennett also targets in-form fullback Scott Drinkwater.

A fortnight after snaring forward firebrand Tom Gilbert from the Cowboys, new expansion franchise the Dolphins have secured Lemuelu on a two-year, $400,000 deal.

The Dolphins will announce Lemuelu’s acquisition on Wednesday. The signing of the rising Cowboys utility comes just 24 hours after the NRL’s 17th team lured Robert Jennings from the Panthers on a three-year deal.

A strapping figure at 190cm and 106kg, Lemuelu has impressed in the Queensland Cup this season, catching the eye of Dolphins scouts with his two-try destruction of Redcliffe in Northern Pride’s 30-18 victory last month.

The 23-year-old has played 21 NRL games since his top-grade debut in 2020, featuring most recently in North Queensland’s 18-12 defeat of Canberra in round 6.

Cowboys back-rower Connelly Lemuelu will join the Dolphins next season. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Cowboys back-rower Connelly Lemuelu will join the Dolphins next season. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

The hard-running Auckland-born product was also a member of the Cowboys squad which won the NRL Nines tournament in Perth two years ago.

Originally blooded in the NRL as a winger or centre, Lemuelu was converted into a back-rower in pre-season by Cowboys coach Todd Payten and he has impressed with his move to the forwards.

Dolphins coach Bennett likes the versatility of Lemuelu, who has the speed to compete in the outside backs but can also provide back-up for the club’s major second-row recruits Felise Kaufusi and Kenny Bromwich.

Lemuelu was off-contract at season’s end and while the Cowboys were hoping to keep the former Wests Tigers rookie in Townsville, they couldn’t compete with the Dolphins’ offer due to salary-cap pressures.

In January, Lemuelu said he was relishing his move from the backs to the forwards.

“I made the transition to the back row towards the end of pre-season and I have been going pretty well there,” he said.

“If I want to play first grade, that’s the position I have the best chance of playing in the NRL.

Scott Drinkwater is on the Dolphins’ radar. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Scott Drinkwater is on the Dolphins’ radar. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

“I have worked on my defensive movements and line running so going to the back row will be a long-term move for me.

“It’s always good to have variety in your game, being able to cover a few positions comes in handy and gives any coach a reason to put you in the side.

“Being able to play multiple positions will only help my game.”

The Dolphins are also eyeing off the classy Drinkwater, but he is contracted to the Cowboys for another year and North Queensland have no intention of letting him go.

Tigers eye gun forward after Bird snub

Jackson Hastings has urged Michael Maguire to ‘pull some strings’ and poach Cronulla’s Briton Nikora after missing out on Jack Bird, as the resurgent playmaker declares he wants to play under the Tigers coach for the rest of his career.

The Tigers have hit the market in a bid to add depth to their backrow stocks with Luke Garner, Luciano Leilua and Kelma Tuilagi departing Concord at season’s end and had expressed interest in Nikora and Bird.

But despite holding a trump card in Hastings’ life-long friendship with Bird, the Tigers have missed out on their target after the 27-year old committed to St George Illawarra for a further three seasons.

Jack Bird had interest from the Wests Tigers, but opted to stick with the Dragons. Picture: NRL Photos
Jack Bird had interest from the Wests Tigers, but opted to stick with the Dragons. Picture: NRL Photos

The club’s attention now moves to Sharks backrower and New Zealand international Nikora, who is uncontracted for 2023.

Maguire already has a relationship with Nikora as the Kiwis head coach. Hastings hopes that connection can help get Nikora over the line and into Tigers colours.

“I had to mark him when he played for the Kiwis and I played for Great Britain. He’s a bit of a nightmare, he runs a really good line. He is athletic and he is fast,” Hastings said.

“You’d be silly not to look at people like that. He obviously has a connection with Madge. It would be nice if Madge could pull a few strings to get him over the line.

“It would be nice to have him running off me instead of over me. He‘ll be a great addition because we probably need some depth in the backrow.”

But even if the Tigers miss out on Bird and Nikora, Hastings has urged Tigers fans not to panic.

Cronulla second-rower Briton Nikora is believed to be weighing up an offer from the Wests Tigers. Credit: NRL Images.
Cronulla second-rower Briton Nikora is believed to be weighing up an offer from the Wests Tigers. Credit: NRL Images.

Parramatta’s Isaiah Papali‘i will join the Tigers next year and is likely to form a starting backrow combination with Shawn Blore.

Blore has had an unfortunate run with injury and is recovering from an ACL injury but fully fit is a State of Origin contender, according to Hastings.

“I think he can play State of Origin in the next couple of years. Hopefully his body holds up and he comes back from this ACL and gets a bit of luck,” Hastings said.

“In the pre-season, what he was doing is freakish and I have trained and played with some good backrowers. He’s top shelf.”

Luke Brooks has also backed rising second row forward Henry O’Kane, a Holy Cross Rhinos junior, to come into contention for a NRL debut in 2023.

“There are a few boys coming through, we’re losing three backrowers but there is young Henry O’Kane, he has played a little bit of NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg for us. He’s a tough young kid and there is an opportunity for him to get a go,” Brooks said.

Hastings is contracted until the end of season 2023 but is set to hit the open market on November 1.

Jackson Hastings and Luke Brooks have combined to put the Tigers back on track. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Jackson Hastings and Luke Brooks have combined to put the Tigers back on track. Picture: Jonathan Ng

The playmaker told The Daily Telegraph he is open to extending at the Tigers long-term with Maguire at the club alongside him.

Maguire and the Tigers offered Hastings an NRL lifeline after being exiled to England, where he was crowned the Super League’s best player in 2019, following ill-fated stints at the Sydney Roosters and Manly.

Hastings wants to repay Maguire with a show of loyalty.

“I’d love to play for Madge for the rest of my career. Ideally that would be at Tigers with him coaching here for a number of years and me playing under him,” Hastings said.

“He’s taught me a lot both on and off the field. He holds a special place in my heart, so does this club.

“I’m fiercely loyal to people loyal to me. I’ve learned over time that people that give you time, respect and effort, you have to pay that back.

“And Madge is one of those people and this club is one of those organisations. I’ll definitely do the right thing by the club, I’ll listen to offers. It would be ideal to stay here and build combinations.”

The future of Maguire, who is contracted until the end of 2023, has been the subject of constant speculation with the coach on borrowed time up until the Tigers turned around their on-field fortunes with a win against Parramatta on Easter Monday.

Hastings wants to show loyalty to coach Michael Maguire (R). Picture: Toby Zerna
Hastings wants to show loyalty to coach Michael Maguire (R). Picture: Toby Zerna

While the win helped ease pressure on the coach, Hastings’ own future at Concord could depend on how the Maguire situation plays out at season’s end.

The Daily Telegraph understands the Tigers are also looking to shore up its outside back stocks.

The club is unlikely to retain former NSW speedster James Roberts but is hopeful rising back Tommy Talau can make a successful comeback from an ACL injury in 2023.

Boom Penrith Taylan May is still without a contract for next season, while star backs Brian To’o and Stephen Crichton are free to field offers from rivals from November 1.

While Hastings believes making a play for the likes of May, To’o and Crichton would be a huge coup for the club, the 26-year old wants the Tigers to commit to its own crop of youngsters.

“I don’t think Penrith will lose any of them. What they have going is fantastic, Penrith have built the precedent of being able to bring kids through and keep them. For a club like ours, if we can keep Stefano Stefano Utoikamanu, Adam Doueihi, Talau, Dane Laurie and Jake Simpkin that’s going to benefit our club too.”

James Roberts will likely be moved on by the Tigers after an unhappy stint. Picture: Getty
James Roberts will likely be moved on by the Tigers after an unhappy stint. Picture: Getty

OFF CONTRACT OUTSIDE BACKS 2022

Euan Aitken,

Jack Bird,

Taylan May

Tom Opacic

Isaiah Tass

Herbie Farnworth

Josh Mansour

Corey Oates

Jaxson Paulo

OFF CONTRACT BACKROWERS 2022

Briton Nikora

Angus Crichton

Adam Elliott

Ryan Matterson

Wade Graham

Matt Doorey

MUNSTER DEAL REVEALED, BIRD’S FUTURE SEALED

Jack Bird’s contract saga is finally over with the utility accepting an upgraded deal after the parties broke the deadlock on Monday night.

A resolution only occurred after the Dragons imposed a Monday deadline to get the deal done.

News Corp has learnt the Dragons upped their offer to include the potential for a third season after Bird rejected the original two year proposal.

Months of negotiations finally concluded late on Monday after the two parties locked in discussions.

The news the club had long anticipated finally came through on Monday and is a welcome boost given their 42-6 loss to Melbourne on Sunday.

It is understood the Dragons guaranteed two years for Bird worth about $1.1 million with a mutual option for Bird and the club to commit for a third season. It was enough for Bird to take up the offer.

Jack Bird will remain a Dragon for the next two years, after re-signing late on Monday night. Picture: NRL Photos.
Jack Bird will remain a Dragon for the next two years, after re-signing late on Monday night. Picture: NRL Photos.

Bird had craved a guaranteed three year contract. However, the mutual option gives both parties a chance to extend the relationship into the 2025 season.

The Dragons are expected to announce the deal this week once the final paperwork is lodged.

The Tigers refused to commit themselves publicly to chasing Bird but at the very least held informal discussions about signing the premiership winner. They too were reluctant about agreeing to a third season. The Eels also dropped interest in pursuing Bird. Parramatta coach Brad Arthur met Bird in February but they withdrew from the chase last month.

The Dolphins were keen on him but Bird was hesitant to return to Queensland despite his close relationship with Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett.

Bird has re-established himself as an NRL player at the Dragons in the past 12 months following an injury ravaged three year stint at the Broncos where he played just 17 games. He played 22 games last year and has started in all but one match for the club this year.

Bird has played second-row, centre and five-eight already this season but is viewed as a back-rower.

The Dragons still have space to move in their forward pack given Tariq Sims is off to Melbourne next year and Josh McGuire is off-contract at season’s end.

Veteran Aaron Woods has a clause in his deal that if he plays a certain number of matches he is guaranteed a 2023 contract.

Meanwhile, hooker Andrew McCullough has been cleared of a serious thumb injury. There were concerns McCullough may have broken his thumb during the loss to the Storm but scans on Monday confirmed no significant damage. It is expected he will take his place to play the Titans on Saturday.

Michael Carayannis

STORM MOVE FAST TO STAVE OFF MUNSTER POACHING RAID

— Brent Read, Phil Rothfield

Melbourne have stepped up their attempts to convince Cameron Munster to stay at the club by indicating they would be willing to throw in an extra year and more money to keep him out of the clutches of their rivals.

The Storm initially tabled a two-year extension to their five-eighth at around the $1.5 million mark but it is understood further talks late last week culminated in the promise of an inflated three year deal, which would keep him at the club until the end of 2026.

The Storm are unable to match the dollars on offer elsewhere, in particular at the Dolphins, but they hope that the promise of an extra year and a meatier pay packet will be enough to convince Munster to commit to the club.

The Storm are also optimistic that they will have a decision on the future of coach Craig Bellamy in coming days, having given him extra time to decide whether he would commit to remain as head coach of the club for next season.

Storm have upped the ante to keep star five-eighth Cameron Munster, offering more money and more years. Picture: Getty Images.
Storm have upped the ante to keep star five-eighth Cameron Munster, offering more money and more years. Picture: Getty Images.

Bellamy is a year-to-year proposition with the club as head coach, but will revert to coaching director role if he decides to step down from head coaching duties.

Club powerbrokers are hopeful that the club’s brilliant start to the year – they have scored a record amount of points over the opening nine rounds – can convince Bellamy to stay for at least one more season in charge.

At the heart of their fast start has been Munster, who is in career-best for the club. Munster is off contract with Melbourne at the end of next season and was initially offered a two-year extension by the club at a reduced rate.

He and his manager Braith Anasta hesitated at the offer, which was well below his market value. However, talks have been ongoing and the Storm insist Melbourne is the best place for Munster from a personal and professional perspective.

His form suggests as much. Munster has 10 try assists and eight line break assists through the opening nine rounds of the competition. Only Parramatta half Mitchell Moses has had more try assists while Cronulla duo Nicho Hynes and Siosifa Talakai are the only players to sit above Munster in terms of line break assists.

Storm head coach Craig Bellamy is poised to make a call on his NRL future in the coming days. Picture: Getty Images.
Storm head coach Craig Bellamy is poised to make a call on his NRL future in the coming days. Picture: Getty Images.

The latest developments on Munster’s future come as the club prepares to renew their rivalry with Penrith on Saturday night at Magic Round in Brisbane, The Storm will head into that game without fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, who failed to finish their big win over St George Illawarra due to knee and hamstring complaints.

It is understood Papenhuyzen will miss at least two matches due to his hamstring, although Storm officials are quietly hopeful that he will be back in time to take his place against Manly in round 12.

If he manages to make it back to take on the Sea Eagles, it would give Papenhuyzen one game to prove his worth to NSW coach Brad Fittler before the Blues name their squad for the opening game of the State of Origin series.

Munster has no such concerns. He will be among the first picked by Queensland coach Billy Slater should he stay fit over the next three weeks. The 27-year-old has put a difficult off-season behind him to confirm his standing as one of the best players in the game and the Storm will need to fend off a host of rivals to keep him in purse beyond next year.

The Dolphins aside, Munster has been linked with St George Illawarra and Canterbury in recent weeks. The Broncos have also been mentioned as prospective players for his services, but the Storm will have the final say.

They have no desire to lose Munster and while their hands are tied to extent by the salary cap – they recently upgraded and extended Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes – they are working hard on piecing together a deal that shows respect for his standing in the game.

Originally published as NRL 2022: Sharks set to extend Briton Nikora and Jack Williams