Dane Gagai linking with Newcastle next season is poised to set off a chain reaction of backline movement sure to shake up the NRL player market.
Gagai’s decision has held the key to where a host of off-contract centres will land next year.
Player managers were waiting with great anticipation for the Queensland Origin representative to make his decision and now he’s agreed to a three-year deal with the Knights, the phones have been running hot between agents and clubs.
The most approached clubs have been Brisbane, South Sydney, Wests Tigers, Cronulla and Parramatta.
With Gagai exiting Redfern, incoming South Sydney head coach Jason Demetriou has been running through several scenarios when it comes to his backline roster.
Broncos utility back Tesi Niu is a name high on their wish list. He can cover wing, centre and fullback.
Kevin Walters pulled no punches when asked whether he wanted to re-sign the youngster.
“We certainly do,” the Brisbane coach replied.
“He shows great maturity for his age, he’s been good for us and sort of helped us turn around our season at fullback.”
Whether the Broncos will be able to compete with other clubs’ offers remains to be seen though.
Should Niu remain in Queensland, the Rabbitohs still have options. Outside back Braidon Burns is unsigned beyond 2021 and could still remain at the club.
Keeping Burns is one option for the Rabbits but that’s if Cronulla don’t swoop in.
The Sharks are believed to have expressed interest in Burns with Josh Dugan, Will Chambers, Nene Macdonald and Mawene Hiroti all off-contract.
The Roar can reveal young North Queensland centre Murray Taulagi has also appeared on both the Sharks’ and Souths’ radar.
Taulagi is unsigned for next year, along with fellow backs Connelly Lemuelu and Justin O’Neill.
There has been plenty of discussion around the recruitment at the Wests Tigers recently, although their backline is relatively settled.
They will welcome Oliver Gildart to the club from Wigan next season and have an option in their favour on Joseph Leilua’s contract.
When it comes to quality and big-game experience, Josh Morris is the highest profile player off-contract. Morris turns 35 in August and is yet to make a call on his future.
His twin brother Brett announced his immediate retirement a few months back after suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
While Morris’ form took a dip, seeing him rested in Round 19, the 300-plus gamer is like a fine wine. He’d be a wonderful addition to any backline in need of some polish and/or a mentor.
As the 2021 regular season nears the end, expect the signing news to ramp up. And just like a ball-playing backline, there will be plenty of movement to keep us all entertained.
Notable off-contract backs
Gerard Beale, Braidon Burns, Will Chambers, Renouf Atoni, Mawene Hiroti, Will Hopoate, Nene Macdonald, Tautau Moga, Tesi Niu, Justin O’Neill, Enari Tuala, Murray Taulagi, Blake Ferguson, Dylan Walker, Edrick Lee, Tevita Funa, Michael Oldfield, Jordan Rapana, and Josh Morris.