Crunch time looms for 14 off-contract Sharks as Fifita fields offer

Cronulla's contract plans for the next three seasons will become far clearer by the end of the month as the futures of 14 off-contract Sharks go under Craig Fitzgibbon's microscope. Picture: NRL

SYDNEY, 16 APRIL 2021 (NRL) – Cronulla’s contract plans for the next three seasons will become far clearer by the end of the month as the futures of 14 off-contract Sharks go under Craig Fitzgibbon’s microscope.

Confirmation of Fitzgibbon’s three-year tenure from 2022 has finally resolved the biggest headache around Cronulla’s top-heavy roster, in which four free agent stars Shaun Johnson, Josh Dugan, Matt Moylan and Aaron Woods take up around $3 million of their current salary cap.

NRL.com understands no calls will be made on their top-tier earners until Fitzgibbon is able to properly assess his new roster with Cronulla’s recruitment staff in coming weeks.

The likes of Johnson, Dugan and Moylan are facing reduced deals if retention offers do in fact come forth.

Extension talks with the likes of Toby Rudolf, Will Kennedy and Siosifa Talakai have been ongoing and the club remains confident of locking them into upgraded deals.

More immediately the Sharks are targeting an outside back with one of their two remaining 2021 roster spots as talks with ex-Storm centre Will Chambers continue.

A short-term deal for the rest of this season is being entertained by both parties after Chambers, 32, returned to Melbourne last year when the COVID-19 pandemic scuppered his Japanese rugby pursuit.

Andrew Fifita’s future is also not expected to be resolved for another few weeks as well despite Wakefield CEO Michael Carter confirming an offer has been tabled for the former international to link with the Super League outfit immediately.

Fifita is serving a three-week suspension for a crusher tackle playing for Newtown on the weekend, and will take that time to weigh up shifting his young family to England in the midst of a pandemic.

Playing alongside his brother David at Wakefield holds appeal, though it is believed their offer at this stage is only for 2021.

Fifita has 18 months remaining on his Cronulla contract, understood to be worth around $800,000 a season, while Fitzgibbon’s confirmation as Sharks coach is another factor in his next career move.

“We have made an offer [for Fifita]. I’ve had one phone call with the main man at Cronulla and he is going to come back to me,” Wakefield CEO Michael Carter told reporters in the UK.

“However, they have now changed the coach so I have no idea at this moment if we will move forward or not.”

Wakefield have freed up the required overseas quota spot for Fifita to link with the club after Cook Islands prop Adam Tangata made an immediate move back to Halifax.

Fifita, 31, has not played first grade this season after finding himself behind Woods, Rudolf, Aiden Tolman and Braden Hamlin-Uele in Cronulla’s front-row pecking order.

Chad Townsend is another Sharks veteran still yet to sort out his future, with a 2022 contract option in his favour.

Townsend has until June to take up his option and told NRL.com recently he would wait on the club’s coaching call before considering his options.

Speaking before Cronulla locked Fitzgibbon in and precipitated John Morris’s immediate exit, captain Wade Graham said players were in the same contract limbo as their coach.

“There’s no secret we do have a lot of guys off contract and there are some big decisions for the club to make with the roster.

“It’s just another part of the jigsaw puzzle.”

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