The Warriors are willing to break through the $1 million-a-season payment barrier for the right player.
Controversial Kiwi winger Manu Vatuvei and Australian playmaker Feleti Mateo are likely to be the first players to test what the cashed-up Warriors are willing to pay for top players from 2014 onwards - although neither is tipped to get contracts that rich.
Both are off-contract at the end of this year and expected to benefit from an explosion of TV and new media money the NRL has secured from new deals.
With the NRL's Collective Bargaining Agreement all but settled and and the salary cap and marquee player allowance sorted, clubs and player agents now know what offers can be put on the table for contracts from 2014 onwards, sparking a race for the code's first million-dollar player.
It's a race Warriors boss Wayne Scurrah says his club will enter if they have to.
Parramatta has reportedly offered former Junior Kiwi star Josh Papalii a $A1 million a year contract, while Brisbane, North Queensland and Cronulla have put in seven figure bids for Origin and Kangaroos kingpin Johnathan Thurston.
Scurrah says he wouldn't flinch at putting together a package for that kind of money if the team's coach Matt Elliott and general manager of football operations, Dean Bell, came to him wanting to sign a player for that much.
The Warriors are well under the salary cap, but in an indication of the club's commitment to improving their competitiveness, Scurrah seems willing to spend close to the new annual ceiling of $NZ6.9 million for next year.
''At the end of the day we've got to be able to afford it and it's got to be a balanced squad, but we are certainly open to all conversations about the roster and you need the top players to compete at the highest level,'' Scurrah last night told Sunday News.
''The perfect world for us is that we grow our own and we are paying New Zealand-born stars that sort of money.''
Leading New Zealand agent Peter Brown says any player breaking the million-dollar barrier would need a substantial contribution from a third party.
''For the Johnathan Thurstons and those sorts of players, if the cap is $A5.2 million (the 2013 figure) between 25 players, it would be hard to envisage someone getting one million of that,'' Brown explained.
''Thurston might pick up $750,000 [from a club], but if he picks up another $300,000 with the marquee player allowance, that will take him over $1m without affecting the cap.''
The increase in the salary cap, via huge new television and new media deals in Australia, offers top Warriors players the opportunity to earn playing wages similar to elite All Blacks. Only senior All Blacks like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw command annual playing fees north of $500,000 and the increase in funds for NRL clubs once again opens up the possibility of top rugby players jumping codes again.
Two Warriors players looking to immediately benefit from the increased salary cap are Vatuvei and Mateo, who are both in the last year of their contracts. Scurrah wouldn't discuss individuals, but says he's pleased to be in a position where he has a better idea of how much money he has to play with.
''The new CBA agreement has been agreed in principle for five seasons and it gives clubs a really good understanding of what cap we've got to work with and what player allowances will be available above the base cap," he explained.
"A key part of that is to find those marquee player sponsorships too."
The Warriors clearly want to re-sign Vatuvei, but Brown, his agent, says the winger won't be rushed into making a decision.
''It will all depend on what Manu wants to do and what the level of financial interest is,'' he said.
''There has been an opportunity for the last five years for him to look at rugby union and the financial terms are a bit better, but at the end of the day he's got to be comfortable with where he's at.
''If he's happy to stay in rugby league and with the Warriors and the terms are right, then he'll be happy and that's what I care about.
''But at the end of the day he'll get the right terms wherever he goes.''
One experienced player agent Sunday News spoke to suggested Vatuvei was likely to secure a deal around the $500,000 a season mark if he remained with the Warriors.
He said that if Mateo has a strong season, he could fetch up to $600,000 a year on the open market.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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