The dust has barely settled on season 2017 and the Melbourne Storm’s record-breaking triumph, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t already started looking ahead to 2018. Player movements always dominate off-season headlines but it’s been a long time since we have had such a high-profile selection of stars with their club futures up in the air.
The key man to this puzzle is Cooper Cronk. If he opts for retirement and takes up what would be a lucrative broadcasting gig with Fox Sports, rosters will remain unchanged come next season.
If however, he opts to play on another year then it promises to set off a series of dominoes that could see several clubs line up with very different halves pairings in 2018. We take a look at the possible outcomes should Cronk play on.
The first domino to fall
Starting with the man himself, a lot hinges on what Cronk decides beyond this year. Should he take up the option of another year (potentially two) at a Sydney-based club, there are realistically only a handful of sides with the cap space left to fit him in.
We can rule out the Bulldogs who are struggling to even register Keiran Foran’s contract with the NRL. South Sydney seems an equally unlikely destination given their preference to develop local junior Adam Reynolds. The Knights and West Tigers are possibilities with plenty of money to burn however, it remains to be seen whether Cronk would want to see out his career with clubs that have had little recent success.
If you are to believe recent whispers in rugby league circles, the frontrunners for Cronk’s signature are the Roosters. This seems an unlikely fit given the success of first-year halves pairing Mitchell Pearce and Luke Keary however, with another soft preliminary finals exit, Cronk could be just what the Bondi club need. The big question for the Roosters is how they fit a player like Cronk under their cap. Bringing in James Tedesco on a four-year deal took up a large chunk of their wages and as a result, they have had to move on several decent players including Aidan Guerra, Kane Evans and Connor Watson. Surely third party deals can only stretch so far?
A Roosters move also raises the question of who relinquishes their halves spot? After all the support and development Mitchell Pearce has received, it would seem an odd decision to replace him with a player who would only be at the club for a year, maybe two? That leaves Keary, who after only joining the Bondi club this year, would surely feel aggrieved having to settle for a bench role next season.
One of the few clubs with room left in the cap for Cronk is the Cronulla Sharks, and it’s this move that would set the wheels in motion for a transfer Merry-Go-Round. Should the Sharks go after Cronk, they would undoubtedly want a dominant young half to learn and develop alongside him. Neither Chad Townsend nor James Maloney look to be the long-term solution for Cronulla, meaning they would be looking elsewhere for a quality five-eighth.
So who have Cronulla had their eye on?…
None other than Matt Moylan.
After reports emerged of rumblings at the foot of the mountains, speculation has been rife that Moylan won’t see out the remainder of the contract that has him at Penrith until 2021. Despite assurances from the Panthers that Moylan won’t be leaving the club, if reports of a falling out with coach Anthony Griffin are true, the relationship is surely untenable. The recent upgrade of Griffin’s contract until 2020 provides a clear indication
as to where the Panthers’ allegiances lie.
The big sticking point in a move to the Shire would be the $250,000 transfer fee Penrith have placed on the signature of Moylan. No doubt the Sharks could find the money if needed, but it provides one serious stumbling block to an entirely new halves pairing in Cronulla.
Jimmy heading West?
If Cronulla were to take Moylan and Cronk, they would need to release someone, and that someone is likely to be former Melbourne, Warriors and Roosters five-eighth James Maloney. The Sharks have previously stated that they would not stand in Maloney’s way were he to find a significant upgrade on his current deal. Even a portion of the reported $700,000 a season Moylan makes at Penrith would be enough to entice Maloney to see out his career at the foot of the mountains.
Not only, would this move suit Maloney, but it could prove to be an excellent fit for Penrith. With boom rookie Nathan Cleary steering the Panthers with experience well beyond his years, a running five-eighth like Maloney would provide the perfect foil to develop Cleary’s game and fast-track the Panther’s tilt at a premiership.
Whatever Cronk does, the next few months are sure to fascinate as the makeup of Season 2018 becomes a lot clearer. Come next year, we could be talking up an entirely different contender for the premiership title.
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