Cronulla are moving to lock in two of the game's highest-profile free agents by the end of the week, with club powerbrokers scheduled to meet with Andrew Fifita's management on Thursday.
The Sharks are also the favourites to snare Benji Marshall and there is a possibility his first game could be against former club Wests Tigers in round 10.
Sharks prop Andrew Fifita brought down by Gold Coast in round one. Photo: Getty Images
Fifita's management group I.am Athlete management, will meet Cronulla officials in an attempt to put the long-running contract saga to rest. It's understood they will seek a four-year contract which they hope can be signed off before the club's clash with Penrith at Remondis Stadium on Saturday. While it's unlikely the NSW and Australian forward will command the type of money reportedly promised by the Bulldogs before that deal went sour, his agent is looking for a deal worth around $2.5 million. While other clubs have expressed interest in Fifita, no other offers will be entertained until negotiations are played out with Cronulla.
The Sharks have another marquee signing target in Marshall. His manager, Martin Tauber, finalised a release from the Auckland Blues, but there remains another stumbling block before he can rejoin the NRL.
As revealed by Fairfax Media on Tuesday, Marshall isn't allowed to play for a rival NRL team until 2016 unless the Wests Tigers and his new club agree on a new set of commercial terms.
Benji Marshall is heading back to the NRL and is set to ink a deal with Cronulla. Photo: Getty Images
Tigers officials met the NRL on Wednesday and reiterated their stance that they would not stand in his way of Marshall returning to the game he made his name in. The joint-venture club won't be able to accommodate him due to a plethora of playmakers on the books including Luke Brooks, Braith Anasta, Curtis Sironen, Mitchell Moses and Blake Austin.
Marshall himself said last July: "I will honour my words about not playing for another [NRL] club" but Tigers CEO Grant Mayer echoed chairman Mike Bailey's welcome back to rugby league. "We are more than happy to have Benji Marshall playing rugby league in the NRL in 2014 and beyond," Mayer said.
"We believe he has got a lot to offer and has a special place in the heart of the Wests Tigers. Unfortunately when he made his decision last year we moved on from a salary cap point of view and we believe we've wisely in our youth. That said, we believe he has a lot to offer any club that's prepared to pay market value because of his marketing appeal and ability as a footballer. It's important we don't stand in the way of him playing football."
The Tigers clearance will come at a cost. The club that nurtured him will ask for a transfer fee similar to the ones negotiated by Ben Barba, Ben Hannant or Sonny Bill Williams. Another club in the mix for the former Golden Boot is Melbourne. "The reality is any club that signs with Benji Marshall will enjoy a spike in a whole range of different commercial areas," Mayer said. "The reality is we need to make sure we protect the interests of this club by negotiating a commercial settlement in the next year and a half. That could come in many forms, from cash to contra."
The Tigers could have more money to spend with forward Ben Murdoch-Masila likely to be granted a release. The Panthers are one of his suitors and a deal could be struck before the June 30 transfer deadline.