NRL: Moon rising in team's centre stakes

By Steve Deane

The decision on whether Moon is offered a new contract will be made by the incoming coach. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The decision on whether Moon is offered a new contract will be made by the incoming coach. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Joel Moon's Warriors career may not be over.

The 23-year-old Australian centre was originally told he would not be retained at the club beyond the end of the season, but the lack of other options means the decision on whether Moon is offered a new contract will be made by the incoming coach.

With Shaun Berrigan occupying the right centre position, the Warriors head into tomorrow afternoon's match against the Rabbitohs in Sydney in the curious position of fielding centres who are considered good enough to feature in crucial end-of-season matches but not good enough to retain for next season.

Asked to explain this apparent anomaly, coach Ivan Cleary said: "You're asking the wrong bloke."

Given Cleary undoubtedly had input into the decision not to offer Moon and Berrigan new contracts, and is still in charge of team selection, that reply appears a touch disingenuous.

The right bloke to talk to, it transpires, is Dean Bell. The club's recruitment and development manager admitted centre stocks for next season looked low.

"It's hard to argue with that," Bell said. "One of the big issues with centre is actually finding a quality centre. It's a position that's really hard to fill. They are a very rare commodity."

Bell said most clubs were struggling to recruit or develop quality centres. The Warriors had extended their search to the English Superleague but had so far come up empty.

Bell also clarified a statement made by chief executive Wayne Scurrah when announcing Cleary's end-of-season departure that the club's recruitment for next year was complete.

"I wouldn't say our recruitment is finished, it is probably on hold," Bell said.

"Most of it is done, 95 per cent of it is done. The new coach may come in and say 'I'm happy with the squad, that's all I need'. Or he may turn around and say 'hey, we need to target a centre'. That wouldn't surprise me."

With the oft-injured Jerome Ropati and the out-of-favour Kristnan Inu likely to be the only experienced centres on the club's books, it would be more of a surprise if the club didn't move to plug the gap.

Top prospect Konrad Hurrell is likely still a year away from the NRL, while Shaun Metcalf was signed this season on a short-term contract and hasn't featured.

Beyond that, the default option becomes converting backrowers Simon Mannering and Lewis Brown into centres.

Retaining Moon, who made a solid return last week against the Bulldogs, looms as a very distinct possibility.

"At the moment we haven't re-contracted him but if his performances are at a level where a new coach comes in and sees what he is doing now, [who knows]? Bell said. "Like he said, he is playing for a contract. Who says it won't be with us?"

Moon's salary expectations might well be an impediment to him staying at the club. Given that he was signed in 2009 as a prospective five-eighth - a premium position - he would likely be offered a significantly reduced contract.

If Moon isn't retained there is no guarantee the club will sign a replacement.

"What we don't want to do is bring in someone just for the sake of it," Bell said. "We are trying to leave those days behind us."

Meanwhile, bench utility Lance Hohaia is out for tomorrow's match with a knee ligament injury. Samoan international Pita Godinet will make his debut.

Senior halfback Brett Seymour, who has been out with a broken thumb, is named in the Vulcans side to take on Newtown Jets in Sydney today, although Cleary said he was no certainty to play.

Given Shaun Johnson's encouraging form, when and if Seymour returns to the NRL side may well become a point of contention.

Blockbusting second rower Ukuma Ta'ai was also expected to play for the Vulcans. The Warriors have won all six games Ta'ai has featured in this season, a statistic Cleary said he did not disregard.

"He was certainly good for us throughout that period without a doubt," Cleary said. "He brings some stuff that other guys don't but he has been for a long time. But from experience Ukuma will need to get a bit of footy under his belt."

- NZ Herald

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