Dogs keen on Thurston, Reynolds a priority

BRAD WALTER AND MICHAEL CHAMMAS
Last updated 15:26 30/01/2013

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Canterbury coach Des Hasler and Josh Reynolds's manager Daryl Mather have agreed to meet the day after the collective bargaining agreement is formalised to discuss a new contract for the five-eighth, despite the Bulldogs' interest in Johnathan Thurston.

Reynolds is among six members of Canterbury's top squad coming off contract this year who have been advised that the club is comfortable for them to test their value on the transfer market. He is expected to attract big offers to play elsewhere next year.

With Thurston also off contract this year, the Bulldogs are among several clubs to have spoken to his manager and are believed to be prepared to offer up to $1 million for the star playmaker to return to Belmore.

While Penrith are believed to be willing to top that figure, a source close to the negotiations has told Fairfax Media that Thurston's preference, if he left North Queensland, would be to join the Bulldogs as he believes they have more chance of winning a premiership.

Thurston played for Canterbury

between 2002 and 2004, and was recently given a tour of the club's high-performance training centre by Hasler and Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg.

However, Hasler and Greenberg have made it clear Reynolds is a priority. The dual premiership-winning coach has told Mather he wants to open negotiations as soon as the collective bargaining agreement between the NRL and the Rugby League Players' Association is finalised.

The 23-year-old, who was part of Laurie Daley's 22-man Emerging Blues squad that gathered in Sydney a fortnight ago, is understood to have already been earmarked as a target by at least two clubs, but it is likely he will remain a Bulldog given the club's commitment to retaining him.

''Josh is a local junior and we are very clear and keen for him to stay, and we will be talking to him and his manager in the next month or so, but we would be naive to think other clubs wouldn't be talking to some of our players who are off contract,'' Greenberg said.

With the Bulldogs not intending to sign a replacement for second-rower Corey Payne, who announced his retirement on Tuesday, the club has some room under the salary cap for Thurston but they will have to release other players to accommodate him.

Among those coming off contract at the end of the season are forwards Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Daniel Finucane and Josh Jackson, and halfback Trent Hodkinson, who missed the majority of last year through injury.

''We have got a few players off contract and we have said to all of them that if they want to go and have a look and test the market or just go and meet and greet some other people, you are more than welcome to,'' Greenberg said.

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The Bulldogs agreed to a two-year contract extension with halfback Kris Keating in August last year, but have held off on re-signing Hodkinson. The club has an abundance of back-rowers following the arrival of Manly and Australian strike forward Tony Williams.

Former New Zealand lock Dene Halatau will also be vying with Pritchard, Eastwood, Jackson, Finucane, Martin Taupau and Tim Brown for a back-row place after being sidelined with injury for most of last season.

Payne would have been another option for Hasler to consider after enjoying his best season in the NRL last year but he felt he could not commit fully to the team due to his increasing off-field interests.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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