ST GEORGE Illawarra recruitment chief Ian Millward has conceded a lower than expected salary cap figure for 2018 has complicated the club’s efforts to re-sign off-contract stars Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan, but he remains confident both can be retained.
The NRL is currently at odds with the Rugby League Players Association over a salary cap figure for next season with most clubs having budgeted for well above the initial $8.7 million figure offered up in negotiations last month. The standoff appears no closer to a resolution and has helped spark what Millward describes as a market “frenzy,” as panicked clubs scramble to secure talent.
Widdop has started the the season in sensational form for the Dragons which has attracted interest from Wests Tigers, who see him as a potential replacement for Parrammatta-bound Mitch Moses, and his former club Melbourne following Cooper Cronk’s shock announcement that 2017 will be his last season with the Storm.
Dugan is also a priority signing, though he will have to embrace a shift to the centres and accept an offer below his reported million-dollar per season asking price to remain at the club. He’s also attracted interest from the Roosters as a fall-back should they fail to lure James Tedesco away from the Tigers.
The Dragons have already secured the services of Broncos half Ben Hunt for the next six years on a multi-million dollar deal and Millward admitted the low-ball cap figure from the NRL has impacted negotiations with the off-contract pair, who share the same manager in Paul Sutton.
“The news we heard a couple of weeks ago that the [cap figure] may be $8.7 million has thrown a lot of clubs out because obviously we were working on a higher figure,” Millward said.
“A lot of clubs thought it was going to be $10 million. We were a lot more conservative than that because we weren’t sure but obviously, when the figures change, it has an effect on negotiations.
“The market at the moment has become a bit of a frenzy. You look at the Melbourne scenario with [Cooper] Cronk, you look at Bird at Cronulla, you look a at Wests Tigers with the players they have off contract, you look at what Canterbury are trying to do with certain players.
“There’s been so much activity with players leaving clubs and clubs getting quite anxious and the market price has gone up. I can use Gareth [as an example]. We were in negotiations with Gareth and all of a sudden there’s been a couple of clubs where things have happened and they’re very anxious.
“Gareth’s definitely a priority for us as is Josh Dugan. We’re still very active in discussions and we would like to keep advancing them and hopefully get a satisfactory result. In this climate at the moment, it’s changing daily, and we’re working with it.
“That’s why their will be some delays at the moment so we can try and get the perfect outcome.”
The Dragons got ahead of the chaos by locking down Hunt prior to the start of the season, though Millward disputed the reported $6 million figure many feel has sparked the current NRL halves market frenzy, and given the club less wriggle-room to retain Widdop.
“We made a decision early that we wanted to get a halfback and thankfully we got that done in January with Ben Hunt,” Millward said.
“We were really pleased with the figure we got. One thing we are really disappointed with is the continued innuendo about what he is getting. I don’t want to talk figures there but it’s nowhere near some of the figures that have been said.
"That can cause problems internally at times because players see those reports, and I notice a lot of them come out of the Broncos.
“We’re very comfortable that we did get in early, we got the figure we were very comfortable with.