The race is open for NRL hopefuls to land one of only 30 places left in the teams for the coming season.
With less than six weeks to go until the 2021 campaign begins, roster slots are of paramount importance, especially after eighty-fifth veteran Benji Marshall officially completed the South Sydney roster.
Marshall was officially introduced as a Rabbitohs player on Friday and extended his notable career to a 19th NRL season. He immediately stated his desire to end his new one-year contract with a Premier League.
« I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited. It felt like it was the first day of school, » Marshall said ahead of his first training session on Friday as he walked around next to Redfern Oval with his cardinal and his myrtle new Rabbitohs teammates .
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« It’s an opportunity for me to not just play, but to win a competition. With this squad here, the coaches, it’s a great opportunity to do that and that’s my goal. »
But a number of other players risk not getting that chance, as spots on each club’s 30-man squad are expected to be filled quickly.
Former Origin hookers Nathan Peats, Canterbury center Tim Lafai, Brendan Elliot from Manly, Jamil Hopoate from Brisbane, Tyrone Roberts from Gold Coast and Jordan Kahu and Richie Kennar from Brisbane are just a few of last season’s contract players for which it is so far there were no NRL deals in 2021.
Some clubs purposely hadn’t filled seats while waiting to see what the salary cap would be for 2021, and wanted to see if they could grab a bargain from rival teams who were trying to dump players in order to hit the cap.
While others like to leave seats open, potentially to fill them internally with development players who impress in the preseason.
Clubs don’t have to officially declare their full roster until June 30th, but in Souths, Canberra and New Zealand the top 30 contract spots are already closed, leaving 13 clubs with vacancies.
Penrith has the most with five, followed by Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta, St. George Illawarra, the Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers with three each.
Trent Barrett has been active in the player market and has revamped Canterbury’s roster. He still has two places to fill. The Bulldogs are believed to be looking for a wing replacement for Christian Crichton, who suffered a knee injury in training at the end of the season. While the other space has been left open in case they could convince Penrith to release their signature a year earlier for 2022, that seems unlikely.
Likewise, the Tigers would love to recruit Daine Laurie for this season in 2022, but there seems little benefit to the Panthers letting him go, considering he currently has a development contract at the foot of the mountains.
The eels are overseeing possible replacements for the Michael Jennings center, which has been suspended after failing a drug test. They could target a center-forward too, but if a suitable option doesn’t come up, Parramatta will fill his remaining squad spots from the club’s up-and-coming player group and enter the free agency market with an armed market for the next season with a substantial amount of money to spend.
The Rabbitohs have put together a roster for the Premier League with the late signings of veteran pair Marshall and Josh Mansour.
Rabbitoh’s football boss Mark Ellison described Marshall as making a difference in the Premier League as he praised the 35-year-old’s signature.
« Anyone who follows the rugby league will understand the benefit Benji Marshall will be to our team and club through 2021, » said Ellison.
« He’s a leader of men, he has played at the highest levels in a long and respected career, he comes with the highest recommendations from Wayne (Bennett), he will be great supporters of the seasoned halves we bring together. » Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker and his experience and knowledge that he can pass on to the young halves we have at the club will be invaluable.
« Benji still has what it takes to make a difference during an NRL Premiership campaign. »
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