Cronulla have refused to rule out making a play for a big-name hooker despite confirming the signing of Manaia Cherrington from Wests Tigers.
Cherrington appears to be in the box seat to take Michael Ennis’ No.9 jumper next NRL season however coach Shane Flanagan cannot guarantee him first crack.
The club signed Cherrington on Friday for one year with the intention of him spending a season being groomed by Ennis, however that plan was thrown into disarray when the former NSW rake last month announced he would retire at the end of this campaign.
“We’re a bit of in a holding pattern with our No.9,” Flanagan said.
“Like the rest of rugby league, we’re in a bit of shock when Michael retired.
“Manaia was coming here to be Michael’s understudy and learn from him.
“You need three hookers at least in your club. Michael plays 80 (minutes), which is a luxury.
“Where we move with our hookers? We’ve got some really good young ones coming up but they’re probably not ready next year to be the No.1 hooker.”
With Ennis to depart, the Sharks have room to play within their salary cap next year. Flanagan said he had no intention of trying to sign out-of-favour Tigers rake Robbie Farah, however he was seen having a meeting with the NSW No.9’s manager Sam Ayoub on Friday at the Sharks Leagues Club.
Flanagan said they had several options including utility Nu Brown, who was touted as the next big thing before suffering a devastating ankle injury at last year’s Auckland Nines which set him back a long way.
Cherrington had been previously linked with Penrith.
“The boys here at the Sharks are going really well, it’s exciting times and I can’t wait to be a part of it,” Cherrington said.
His move to the Sharks will also have major consequences for the Tigers, whose once-burgeoning hooking stocks suddenly look thin.
After being dumped to NSW Cup, Farah is expected to sign a two-year deal soon with South Sydney.
Dene Halatau, who has worn the No.9 since Farah’s axing, has announced he will retire at the end of this season while it remains to be seen if Matt Ballin, who will be 33 in January, will play again after undergoing two knee reconstructions in two years.
The club had hoped to use the back half of the season to give game time to highly rated 19-year-old Jacob Liddle, however that plan was scuppered because of second-tier salary cap restraints.