NRL: Warriors eager to fill gap on wing

By Steve Deane

The Warriors are chasing an experienced outside back to complete their squad for next year's NRL campaign.

Recruitment manager Dean Bell has been scouring the market for a player to boost the club's resources in what became a problem area this year following the loss of key centre Brent Tate to a season-ending knee injury.

"We've looked at the squad for 2010 and we've recognised that we probably just need a bit more back-up in the outside backs really," Bell said.

On the face of it the club doesn't appear too thin out wide, with at least 10 players on its books able to cover the fullback, centre and wing positions.

But with Tate returning from a major injury, Jerome Ropati coming off a season marked by injury and fluctuating form, and Manu Vatuvei's knees a recurring issue, there are certainly enough question marks to justify another seasoned hand on deck.

The club is well served at fullback, where Kevin Locke has emerged as a contender to Wade McKinnon's throne. And there is also depth at centre, where Joel Moon and Simon Mannering can cover for Ropati and Tate. And emerging youngsters Siuatonga Likiliki and Elijah Taylor are also considered strong prospects.

With Denan Kemp and Aiden Kirk having departed and Patrick Ah Van proving a less-than-satisfactory stand-in late in the season, wing appears to be the most pressing need.

Having sifted through options for the past week, Bell will now meet with coaches Ivan Cleary,Tony Iro and John Ackland and chief executive Wayne Scurrah to draw up a short list.

The club has money to spend and the player brought in would not be a journeyman who would just take-up game time that could be used for developing players, Bell said.

The player would also not necessarily be a free agent, with the Warriors hoping to pick up a discard from a club with salary cap issues.

One such club could well be the Parramatta Eels, who could struggle to keep the likes of Eric Grothe, Joel Reddy and Luke Burt if they break the bank to keep Jaryd Hayne.

"It was part of our plan not to jump into anything early, just to see what [becomes available] at the end of the year," Bell said.

Bell has also been active in pursuing a major signing to replace Steve Price for the 2011 season.

Jonathan Thurston is the leading player available in a bulging 2011 free-agent market but, with the club having just recruited halves Brett Seymour and James Maloney, Bell sees a top draw prop as the most pressing need.

"We've got a big group of players who are potentially going to do the job for us [in the halves]," he said.

"When you are looking at marquee players they are not going to be around very long but we also have to give our current squad a chance to stake a claim to be re-contracted and we have to look at the youngsters coming through as well.

"What we don't want to do is rush into anything. At the same time, if you want the best players you have to set your stall out pretty early and there are a couple of players we've got our eye on at the moment."

The Warriors have persistently denied they are chasing Thurston, although they did meet his manager Sam Ayoub in August.

Price, who turns 36 in March, is yet to make public his plans beyond 2010 but the Herald understands there have been no discussions with the Warriors about any potential contract extension.

In other news, Ruben Wiki's return to the club as a member of the backroom staff should be formalised next week.

Wiki, who has already begun assisting at training, is to be given a high-performance brief, focusing on strength and conditioning pre-season and skills training during the season.

- NZ Herald

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