The silly season is firmly upon us. Day after day we wake up to rumours of player movement that range somewhere between the truth and fake news. It’s terrible. It’s only Round 8! But, despite the NRL transfer process currently being an unwanted distraction from the regular season, unfortunately we seem to be stuck with it, at least in the short term. So, instead of complaining about what a farce it is that Kieran Foran has played just three games for the club and already has to make a decision about whether he wants to stay for another year, below is a list of all the current Warriors off-contract at the end of 2017 and my arguments for whether the club should hold them or fold them.
Allwood arrived at the Warriors in somewhat mysterious circumstances. Despite being touted as an up-and-coming player at Canberra, his Raiders contract was terminated shortly after signing on at Mt Smart, and he’s never had an extended run in first grade since. He’s shown flashes of NRL quality, but has never been able to stick. With David Fusitu’a and Solomone Kata locked up through 2019 (and youngster Junior Pauga signed to the end of 2018) it’s probably time for both player and club to move on.
In his two seasons at the club so far, Ayshford has appeared in 26 out of a possible 31 NRL games, which suggests he’s become an important fixture in the side. However, he’s a polarising figure among fans, with some lauding his steadiness and others highlighting his limitations. To me, it’s perfectly justifiable to keep Ayshford for another season or two as a squad player if he’s prepared to stay on the cheap, but, for the same reasons outlined with Allwood above, if the finances get tight I’d be looking at other options.
A nuggety young player, who I see in a similar mould to Jazz Tevaga. His future may depend on what happens with other young players such as Ata Hingano, Tui Lolohea and Nathaniel Roache, but I’d be inclined to hold onto the nineteen-year-old Clark in the hope he can continue to develop.
Enough has been written about Kieran Foran’s situation, so I won’t bore you with the details. Of course I’d love to see him stick around for at least another year, and I honestly think there might have been a good chance of that happening if he was able to play out the year, assess how the situation worked with his two young kids and then decide. But as it stands, it looks as though a move back to Sydney is all but signed and sealed. For what it’s worth, as much as it’s created a distraction, I believe that the value from having him around the club for a year, working with Johnson and the young halves at the club, will be worth it in the long run.
Gavet found himself on the fringes of the NRL squad last year, with Albert Vete, Sam Lisone, Charlie Gubb and Toafofoa Sipley all ahead of him in the pecking order at various times, but his strong play in 2017 has since earned him a starting spot. He plays with a ferocious energy, and the Warriors might need to sign that extension sooner rather than later if they want to stay within their budget. Gavet’s re-emergence has complicated matters among the propping ranks, with Matulino, Lillyman, Gubb, Vete, and Toafofoa Sipley also off contract. Those decisions will be among the most fascinating in the weeks ahead.
See above re the propping situation. While letting Gubb go would cause an outcry among Warrior Nation, depending on how the rest of the contracts fall into place, it’s probably something they need to consider if his asking price gets too high. His enthusiasm and hard-working attitude have made him a fan favourite, but not yet the permanent name on the team sheet that the Warriors need.
A crucial domino in the Warriors’ contract situation. All the noise has been about Kieran Foran, but he was always going to leave for Sydney at some point. Hingano has come through the Warriors’ system, and looks like someone with huge talent. He’s small, and I still have concerns that a halves combination of Johnson and Hingano could be exposed at the defensive end. But, in the first few rounds of 2017, Hingano equipped himself better than I expected, forming a good understanding with Ryan Hoffman. Unless an experienced top-level half becomes available on a longer-term deal, it’s crucial the Warriors don’t let Hingano slip through their grasp.
Hoffman has been a workhorse during his years at Mt Smart, and was a crucial figure in one of the more memorable moments of the past few years. It’s clear he’s at the latter end of his career, but he’ll do a good job for someone next season, wherever he lands. The arrival of Tohu Harris has made Hoffman expendable, but I hope he gets a strong round of applause when he walks off the Mt Smart pitch his final time.
There’s no doubt Shaun Johnson has his flaws, but there’s also no doubt in my mind that he’s absolutely world class. Yes he could be more consistent, yes he could take on the line more often and yes he could improve defensively. I know the results in recent years haven’t been good, but think back to your favourite moments and many of them involve a Shaun Johnson match-winner. There’s not many players in the NRL with the ability to do what Johnson can do, and you don’t let someone like that walk out the door without a fight. All signs point to him re-signing — at a hefty fee, mind you — but the sooner the better if you ask me.
One of the trickier discussions. In his ninth season at the club, Lillyman will have played close to 200 games for Warrior Nation by the end of this year. He’s quietly put himself up there with the club’s best servants and will be remembered fondly by the Mt Smart faithful. He still puts in a decent shift week after week and can be relied on when the going gets tough. But he’s 33, and the propping situation is murky. Depending on what’s available on the open market, I’d be inclined to offer Lillyman another year, maybe two, in the hope that he can maintain his current level of play and mentor the young props at the club. Whether he’d be willing to accept a lower pay packet to stay, however, is another question.
Mason Lino can take a lot of credit for the fact the ISP NSW Cup side is unbeaten to start 2017. He’d signed with a French club for the 2015 season, but an injury during the Warriors’ U20s grand final victory in 2014 saw him remain with the Warriors’ NSW Cup side instead. He’s battled hard at that level, and had three opportunities in the NRL when Shaun Johnson broke his ankle. He didn’t look like a world-beater during that run, but if Foran and Lolohea depart, Lino suddenly becomes the third half at the Warriors behind Johnson and Hingano, and thus someone the club will have no choice but to retain unless they find a better option elsewhere.
Not off contract but seems destined to leave sooner rather than later. Feels to me like another Konrad Hurrell, where if he finds a good landing spot Lolohea still has the potential to become an excellent NRL player. It will hurt to see him in another jersey, but I’d rather see him given a shot than be languishing in the Warriors’ NSW Cup side.
Once thought of as one of the best props in the world, Matulino’s form dipped in 2016 to the point where I’d be hesitant to re-sign him. Like Foran, it would be great if the Warriors could wait to see how this year plays out before making a decision. At his best, he’s exactly the kind of forward the Warriors need — someone who can dent the initial defensive line, providing opportunities for either a quick play-the-ball or an offload. But with the Tigers reportedly looking to offer Matulino a big deal, the Warriors need to consider whether Big Ben is worth the risk and the price tag. Personally, I think both Matulino and the Warriors might benefit from a parting of ways.
NSW Cup player of the year in 2016, and a strong start to this season at the same level. He’s only 21 and can play multiple positions. I’d be surprised if we don’t see him in the NRL squad at some point in 2017. Sign him up.
Another young forward fighting for a spot among a crowded rotation that includes the props already mentioned and the likes of Bunty Afoa and Isaiah Papali’i. Great to keep him if we can, but obviously very dependent on other contracts.
Roache has shown flashes, but the question remains as to whether he’s a long-term replacement at the hooking position. It’s always nice to hold on to talented young players, but if he gets a strong offer elsewhere, a tough decision may need to be made.
Injuries have stunted his second stint at Mt Smart, so it’s hard to get a line on Sao. I’d be much more inclined to hold onto Bodene Thompson or some of the young props, and look for a more damaging back-rower to fit alongside Mannering and Tohu Harris.
Wider squad player in the forwards, whose role is largely dependent on how the rest of the contracts play out.
Burst onto the NRL scene in a 10-minute spell against the Dragons in 2016, but injuries halted his rise in the top grade. Has the size to be the kind of forward the Warriors need and is only 21. I’d be keen to stick with him if the finances line up.
To me it feels like Thompson hasn’t quite lived up to his potential, particularly as a ball-runner outside Shaun Johnson. Often he finds himself through half a gap, with one defender between him and the tryline and can’t find a way through. The Warriors desperately need a second-rower who can break the line to complement Mannering and Tohu Harris, but those players aren’t exactly easy to find. Despite those criticisms, he’s definitely an NRL-quality player and I’d still hang on to Thompson as a bench/squad player for the next couple of seasons.
I really thought this would be Albert Vete’s year. Instead, he finds himself relegated to NSW Cup duties with the likes of Charlie Gubb, Ligi Sao and James Gavet all ahead of him on the food chain. There are rumours linking him with Newcastle, among others, and I fear he might leave if an opportunity doesn’t present itself soon. Personally I’d re-sign him ahead of Sao, Gubb and Toafofoa Sipley at least, then consider his value against the potential salaries of Matulino, Lillyman and Gavet, but the Warriors’ coaching staff doesn’t seem to share my views at this point in time.
Those were my thoughts — will be interesting to look back in a couple of years’ time and see how right or wrong I was! Do you agree? Disagree? Whatever happens, with so many players’ futures up in the air, the next few weeks shape as vitally important for the future of the club.