NRL: Packer's exit frees up salary cap

By Michael Brown

Even with classy recruit Sam Tomkins there is room for the Warriors to consider bringing in another player

Russell Packer will join Wayne Bennett at the Newcastle Knights on a four-year deal.  Photo / Getty Images
Russell Packer will join Wayne Bennett at the Newcastle Knights on a four-year deal. Photo / Getty Images

Prop Russell Packer's departure from the Warriors has freed up some room for the club to make another addition to their playing roster for next year with outside backs and back-rowers top of their wishlist.

Packer was released from the final year of his Warriors contract and will join Wayne Bennett at the Newcastle Knights on a four-year deal. A release was understood to have been initiated by the club but Packer was open to the idea.

He was once considered a vital ingredient of what was arguably the best four-prop rotation in the game but injuries blighted his 2013 season, restricting him to just nine games and opening the door for others. By the end of the season, Suaia Matagi had proved he was a first-grade prop and Matagi, Charlie Gubb, Sione Lousi, Sam Lousi and Albert Vete will all compete to join Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman and Sam Rapira in the NRL side next season.

Packer's departure eases the salary cap pressures brought about by the capture of fullback Sam Tomkins and there is even room for the Warriors to consider bringing in another player for 2014.

"There are always players out there and we are reviewing our options, just like every club who will be looking around," Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said.

The club are still considering whether to offer a new deal to centre Jerome Ropati, who is off contract after 10 seasons with the Warriors. Ropati is still only 28 but his last three seasons have been wrecked by injuries and he could be deemed too much of a risk.

Outside backs is an area that needs strengthening. Centre Konrad Hurrell can be a slow starter and was dropped down to the Vulcans this season and Dane Nielsen provides little attacking thrust, and the Warriors were sometimes short on the wing with Glen Fisiiahi (a fullback), Ngani Laumape (a centre) and Ropati (a centre) often employed there.

The club are also on the lookout for hard-working back-rowers with size. They have a number of talented youngsters coming through but the question is whether they are ready for the NRL.

Speculation continues to swirl around Kevin Locke, especially with Tomkins' arrival, but it looks increasingly likely he will remain at Mt Smart Stadium.

Packer will probably be best remembered for urinating on Suncorp Stadium immediately before the Warriors' 56-18 hammering of the Broncos, which saw the club handed a A$15,000 ($17,100) fine by the NRL, but his arrival in 2007 came with considerable fanfare.

He had been chased by a number of clubs as a youngster but opted for the Warriors and made his first-grade debut as an 18-year-old in 2008. He went on to play 110 games for the club, and also won two test caps for the Kiwis in 2011.

•The Warriors will play three games at Eden Park next year as well as another in Wellington, meaning only eight games will be staged at Mt Smart Stadium.

The club have played at Eden Park for the past three years but only once a season and the move to play three games in 2014 represents another phase in the shift to use Eden Park permanently. They have never won there and league fans have major misgivings about the ground but it has been a commercial success, with crowds in excess of 30,000 for all three games.

Eden Park will also host the Auckland Nines on February 15-16.

•Hooker Issac Luke, centre Bryson Goodwin and back-rower Jeremy Smith were added to the Kiwis World Cup train-on squad.

The final 24-man squad will be announced in Auckland on Tuesday.APNZ

- APNZ