Brisbane officials are so confident they will snare Daly Cherry-Evans on a A$1.1 million (NZ$1.19 million) per annum deal from 2016 that they haven't even opened negotiations with incumbent halfback Ben Hunt.
Hunt is poised to make his State of Origin debut for Queensland if Cherry-Evans' knee injury doesn't recover in time for game II next Wednesday at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. However, the Manly playmaker could well force him out of the Broncos after being offered a deal which would make him one of the highest-paid players in NRL history.
Both halfbacks are contracted to their respective clubs until the end of next year, but the Broncos have made an early move in their bid to prise Cherry-Evans out of Brookvale. The Sea Eagles view the 25-year-old as a future captain and are desperate to retain him, but won't be able to compete financially with Brisbane.
Manly have opened talks with Cherry-Evans' management about an upgraded and extended deal but the Broncos believe they have sneaked under their guard. Cherry-Evans' father, Steve, has a close relationship with several Brisbane officials, including coach Anthony Griffin.
Should the Broncos get their man, the Redcliffe product could form a lethal halves pairing with Anthony Milford, who will make the switch from Canberra next year. The pair are seen as being capable of helping another recent signing, fullback Ben Barba, find his best form.
One complicating factor for the northerners is a salary cap investigation into the club following allegations they cheated the cap by up to A$500,000 over three years.
The NRL engaged Delloite, the independent accounting firm that confirmed Melbourne had systematically rorted the cap between 2006 and 2010, to look through the books after claims of irregularities in retention and recruitment strategies.
One marquee player is believed to be out of pocket for a six-figure amount, while a host of third-party payments will be scrutinised.
Long-serving Broncos player and official Andrew Gee has parted company with the club after an involvement spanning 25 years. Their coaching situation is also unresolved, with insiders claiming only a top-four finish will guarantee Griffin his position beyond the end of the season.
Even that may not be enough should Wayne Bennett decide to walk away from Newcastle and head home.
Manly are facing a balancing act to keep their own roster intact. The departure of veteran back-rower Glenn Stewart to South Sydney has freed up some funds, with the majority earmarked for the retention of Cherry-Evans.
However, one of Cherry-Evans' best friends at the 2013 grand finalists, Jamie Buhrer, is a free agent at the end of the year and is attracting interest from rivals.
The retention of Buhrer, an obvious replacement for Stewart, is considered a key part of the strategy to retain Cherry-Evans. However, the Sea Eagles face a challenge in appeasing them both, while NSW forward Anthony Watmough will be another signing priority before his contract ends at the end of 2015.
Further complicating matters for Sea Eagles officials is the rocky relationship Cherry-Evans has with some members of the senior playing group. There has been a much-publicised divide between some of the club's stars, with the No.7 said to be on the outer.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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