Rugby League

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Running for their lives from an uncertain future

MORE than 50 NRL stars will be playing for their futures in coming weeks as clubs finalise their rosters for next season, including some players under contract for next year and beyond.

As clubs juggle their salary caps to accommodate new recruits, the likes of Wests Tigers utility Tom Humble, South Sydney back Fetuli Talanoa, Parramatta props Justin Poore and Shane Shackleton, Canterbury second-rower David Stagg and Newcastle forward Richie Fa'aoso are set to move on.

The Bulldogs have the most players off contract, with 11 still unsigned, while Newcastle and Penrith also have a large number of players yet to resolve their futures.

All three clubs have new coaches this season, and Des Hasler, Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary are still shaping their teams.

After five consecutive losses, Knights chairman Paul Harragon said yesterday all players were ''on notice'' and rival club officials have told the Herald that some Newcastle players were being shopped around - including backs Wes Naiqama and Junior Sa'u, who are both contracted for next season.

Canberra chief executive Don Furner said the Raiders had been offered the services of up to 20 players, including some available to join the club before the June 30 deadline for mid-season transfers.


''We've been offered probably 15 to 20 players … [including] quite a few from Newcastle,'' Furner told ABC Radio. ''Some are talking about trying to move before June 30 this year.

''We have got to sit down with the coaching staff and go through a few of those names. There will be more names that get thrown up too, so we are not in a hurry.''

Furner said the Raiders may be interested in Humble, who is off contract at the Tigers this season, along with fellow utility Tim Moltzen and wingers Lote Tuqiri and Matt Utai.

Shackleton, who is out of favour at the Eels, has been linked with a move to Penrith, who have already signed Melbourne forward Sika Manu, Cowboys hooker James Segeyaro, Warriors back-rower Lewis Brown and Manly centre Dean Whare.

The Knights are still trying to bolster their under-performing squad this year and have been linked to Poore, who is off contract this year but is being shopped around in the hope of a pre-June 30 release.

However, any chance of the Knights recruiting another player this season would hinge on them offloading the likes Fa'aoso or Evarn Tuimavave, or possibly both, due to the salary-cap implications.

The Herald understands Tuimavave was set to take up an immediate offer to play in England but the move fell through.

Harragon, who led the Knights to the 1997 premiership, said yesterday that Bennett had warned all of the players that their performances were under review.

''I think you'll find it with a lot of coaches. Even Ivan Cleary's doing the same thing [at Penrith],'' Harragon told Newcastle radio station KO-FM yesterday.

''You get to the point where you work with blokes, you do this, you do that, and the final result is: 'Hey guys, everyone's on notice. If you're not coming my way … '. He [Cleary] has had to drop all his senior players.

''Wayne's gone in the same direction, just saying: 'You guys are all on notice, this is the way we've got to go, come online and let's do it.'''

Naiqama is in the first year of a new three-year contract, and Sa'u is contracted until the end of next year but it is believed the Knights would consider releasing the pair, who have spent most of the season in NSW Cup, if another club was interested.

Forwards Chris Houston and Willie Mason remain unsigned beyond this year but have been two of the team's most consistent performers and the Knights hope to retain them.