THE expected departures of Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington to Cronulla could pave the way for Manly prop Brent Kite to join Wests Tigers next season.
While all parties were yesterday denying speculation of the NRL’s latest player merry-go-round, the Herald was told that player agents have been advised that the Sea Eagles are looking for a new prop next season.
The Sharks’ signing of Ryan and Heighington is also expected to result in the club releasing Kiwis international Jeremy Smith to join Newcastle next season. Liam Fulton and Lote Tuqiri are also expected to re-sign with the Tigers.
Both Manly and Wests Tigers are rumoured to have salary cap problems, with NRL salary cap auditor Ian Schubert reportedly refusing to register Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart’s new contract until the club resolves the problem.
A Manly official told the Herald that Kite was under contract next season, while the Sharks denied they had yet signed Ryan or Heighington.
However, it is understood that deals with both Tigers players are close to being finalised – much to the frustration of disappointed teammates, who were unhappy last year that the club released Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita to make way for the signing of Adam Blair.
Captain and hooker Robbie Farah has also been linked to Parramatta but he is expected to remain at the Tigers for next season at least.
Speculation was rife a year ago about Ryan and Heighington joining Penrith this season but both stayed with the Tigers.
Heighington, now the English representative lock, was on contract with the Tigers until the end of the next season but the club is understood to have baulked at offering him an extension, given the failure of the squad to reach the finals this year.
Heighington was approached about a three-year deal with Cronulla, which he has clearly found difficult to ignore given his future at the Tigers was clouded.
Ryan’s impending departure is peculiar given his announcement on The Footy Show during the season that he had agreed to a new deal with the Tigers. Yet that deal was never formalised, and with Heighington’s future in the air, it appears certain it will not be.
Heighington and Ryan are good friends and are both popular members of the Tigers, which means the playing group will be hit hard by the departures, a year after Gibbs and Fifita left for Cronulla.
Ryan’s manager Wayne Beavis maintained he had signed ”no contract with Wests Tigers”, but that does appear to be a formality.
The Tigers are expected to announce that Tuqiri has agreed to a new deal with the club, which will ensure that his NRL career does not end with a broken arm.
Fulton is also believed to be close to finalising a new deal to remain at the Tigers beyond next season.
Meanwhile, Manly prop Jason King will be named today for Friday night’s preliminary final, despite failing to finish the match against North Queensland due to a shoulder injury. King was forced from the field with the same injury during the previous week’s loss to the Bulldogs.
Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey yesterday admitted there was a silver lining to his side being forced to play against North Queensland last weekend. ”It was actually a good thing for us, we ended up finding some form against North Queensland, and I think that will stand us in good stead for Melbourne.”
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