Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Elliott cheques out the talent

New Warriors coach is cashed up and ready to spend to bring in some new blood, writes Michael Burgess

Bulldog Trent Hodkinson offloads against the Cowboys. He is wanted by the Warriors. Photo / Mark Nolan
Bulldog Trent Hodkinson offloads against the Cowboys. He is wanted by the Warriors. Photo / Mark Nolan

On his first day in the job, new Warriors coach Matthew Elliott made it clear that getting new blood to the franchise was one of his top priorities. While he recognised that there was a solid core of players, he wanted to "top that up", noting that there was an "unbelievable amount" of room in the salary cap.

"You can make it an advertisement to any NRL club," Elliott told Australian media. "If they are looking to offload players, they can get in contact with us."

Strong words, but what gaps are the Warriors looking to fill? New wings and centres are high on the hit list, as Elliott has already said the club was "a little skinny" in outside backs.

Further cover in the halves would also seem logical as would another back rower to replace the losses in that area. The Warriors currently have 28 players within their wider NRL playing roster and it is believed they are looking to recruit three or four more player before the start of the 2013 season.

It is understood the the Warriors are targeting both players currently off contract (free agents), as well as those still under contract but whom clubs may be willing to release (similar to the Krisnan Inu situation at the Warriors last year). The club will also look to increase the number of players available to Elliott, after admitting that the roster this season was a bit light.

"After feedback from the coaches, it was decided that we actually had too many players in 2011," says CEO Wayne Scurrah. "We cut the numbers down but after all our injuries [especially to senior players] and losing Inu we ended up a bit thin. We will look to find the right balance next year."

Given all of the above, some of the players who may be available to Elliott - in addition to 34-year-old previously retired winger George Carmont, confirmed this weekend as a player of interest - include:

Michael Jennings: The last time Jennings came to Auckland he played in the ignominious surrounds of Mt Smart number two, relegated to NSW Cup by Penrith coach Ivan Cleary. Elliott is said to be a big fan of the Origin centre and was coach of Penrith when Jennings was the highest paid player at the Panthers. However he is in hot demand - eight clubs are said to be negotiating with his agent - and his current wages (reputedly over A$600,000) would not be able to be matched by the Auckland club.

Blake Ayshford: Despite a disappointing 2012 season, the Tigers player would be a handy acquisition. With 88 NRL games under his belt, Ayshford can play centre or lock forward and has been given permission by the Tigers to negotiate with other clubs as they look to cut their wage bill.

Bronson Harrison: The Kiwis international (12 tests) is still under contract with the Raiders but his future there remains uncertain, after the Raiders discussed letting him go to the Knights mid-season. Still only 27, Harrison has experience and can fill all of the back row positions as well as centre.

Trent Hodkinson: The 24-year-old was highly rated by Des Hasler at Manly but found his progress halted by Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran. He moved to the Bulldogs and finds himself under Hasler again but had limited opportunities in 2012, playing just six matches (and failing to engineer a single line break or try assist) as Hasler preferred Josh Reynolds and Kris Keating. David Stagg: The former Queensland Origin representative is unwanted at the Bulldogs, who are under serious salary cap pressure and is yet to find a club for 2013. The Bulldogs admit they are stunned no one has offered for the 28-year-old, who has played in two grand finals (2006 and 2012). Stagg, who has played over 180 games, would bring huge experience and a solid work ethic.

Anthony Quinn: The 29-year-old winger has played over 200 NRL games and appeared in two grand finals at the Storm. He has three NSW Origin caps to his name and is uncontracted for the 2013 season.

- Herald on Sunday

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