MANLY face an even greater task to retain Kieran Foran after the Warriors and Melbourne joined the Bulldogs in the race for his signature.
The Sea Eagles have locked up halfback Daly Cherry-Evans on an upgraded deal but the future of his halves partner Foran remains uncertain. The Kiwi pivot is effectively a free agent, as he has a get-out clause in his contract that was activated when Des Hasler defected to Canterbury. While the interest from the Bulldogs is well known, the emergence of the Storm and the Warriors as contenders will make it even harder for Manly to retain the playmaker.
The Warriors are on the lookout for a replacement pivot for Roosters-bound James Maloney next season. While they have signed Thomas Leuluai from Wigan for next year, it is understood officials would like to pair gun halfback Shaun Johnson with Foran, as Leuluai is also a capable hooker. The fact that Foran is a New Zealander - he has represented the Kiwis on seven occasions - could give last year's grand finalists a distinct advantage in negotiations.
However, Warriors boss Wayne Scurrah gave little away when contacted about the club's interest in the 21-year-old.
''We don't talk about our recruiting decisions until we've got something to say,'' Scurrah said.
''We have flagged with the new owners - Owen Glenn and Eric Watson - that we are committed to development. We are looking to do more in development and any signings we make outside the club will be high-level ones that will complement the team performance.''
Melbourne have also become contenders for Foran's services. The Storm could have money to spend - and a halves spot available - if they are unable to retain Cooper Cronk. The Queensland and Australian star is the other big name on the open market and has been headhunted by South Sydney and Gold Coast.
Despite the Titans' financial difficulties, there have been rumours the club is close to securing Cronk on a four-year deal reportedly worth $2.6 million. Should that transpire, Foran would be an obvious replacement, ensuring the Storm continue into the future with a ''big three'' in the spine of their attack. Souths also have room to raise their offer after Dave Taylor decided to head to the Titans next year.
Manly's salary cap is almost bursting at the seams from next year and some marquee names will have to move elsewhere. The premiers won't be able to keep all of their off-contract stars, with Foran, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Darcy Lussick among those on the free-agent list. Cherry-Evans's upgrade will only further complicate matters given several players are on heavily back-ended deals.
Given his tender age, representative status and marketability - Foran was given the honour of opening the NRL season alongside his halves partner - the Asquith Magpies junior could command up to $700,000 a season on the open market.
Earlier this month, the Herald revealed Foran's management team was seeking a pay rise of 14 per cent of Manly's overall cap - a total that translates to $600,000 a year. But the likely cap rise to $5 million next year would mean the Kiwis international would earn about $700,000 a season.
Manly chief David Perry was hopeful of landing Foran's signature. ''We understand Kieran's position and that he is much sought-after. We're not seeking to put any further pressure on him but it's no secret that he's an integral part of the club and we'd love to have him here long term. That's what we're working towards.''