Jarryd Hayne sideshow threatens to hijack NSW State of Origin team camp
The New South Wales State of Origin camp is poised to become the Jarryd Hayne sideshow, with the Titans giving him until game day to decide whether to take up a A$1.2 million (NZ$1.3m) option on the Gold Coast.
With Hayne set to make his return to the Origin arena for the first time since NSW's drought-breaking series triumph in 2014, Blues coach Laurie Daley is aware of the media circus that will follow Hayne if he hasn't made a decision by the time he heads into team camp.
The Titans haven't been asked for a deadline extension and are unlikely to look favourably on such a request, meaning the spotlight will be fixed on Hayne when the Blues gather in Sydney ahead of the game.
Gold Coast are desperate for an answer one way or another so they can make alternative recruitment plans in the event Hayne decides to take his talents elsewhere.
Hayne hasn't played enough rugby league to earn strong interest from rival NRL clubs, but if he doesn't take up the Titans option, he would be backing himself to demand top dollar by the end of the year.
"There's been no discussion about an extension," Titans chief executive Graham Annesley said.
"That's the date on the contract and we're hoping for positive news on that date. If he was selected for Origin the two dates will coincide but he's big enough and experienced enough to manage whatever conflicts that might cause. I'm sure he'll work that out to suit himself.
"If he was to take up the option, I'm sure his manager would probably send us an email confirming that he was taking it up. We'd probably need to have it confirmed one way or another. Jarryd doesn't need to do that himself, his manager can do that."
Hayne is expected to be picked in the centres for NSW, with Daley confident the player can return to his brilliant best on a stage he has often dominated.
While Daley knows the speculation over his future has the potential to become a distraction in the camp, he believes it won't hamper Hayne's performance.
"I think that he would have in the back of mind what he wants to do," Daley said.
"I've never had any issues with Haynesy. I've always found him to be really good in these type of camps."
The Blues will be based in Kingscliff for seven nights from next Tuesday, just 45 minutes south of the Titans' headquarters.
Sydney Roosters-bound James Tedesco will come into the camp after an indifferent opening to the year, but Daley insists he has no concerns over his form despite a lacklustre showing for the Tigers against the Rabbitohs last week.
"I think that was a performance of a guy that had the weight of the world on his shoulders the other night," Daley said.
"Again, I'm comfortable that when people come into my camp they'll be excited. There's a lot going on at the Tigers and it can be draining. Sometimes a change of environment is the best thing those guys can have. They don't lose their talent.
"His performance on the weekend was uncharacteristic. I'm sure he'd be disappointed in himself. I've got no concerns if I was picking him for NSW."
The NSWRL have a logistical nightmare to solve trying to get South Sydney and Melbourne players back from a Sunday night match in Perth for the team gathering on Monday morning. It's likely hooker Robbie Farah and Storm prop Jordan McLean will be named in Laurie Daley's team for game one, but neither club has been advised to make alternative arrangements to get their players back as soon as possible.
The Rabbitohs aren't due to arrive back in Sydney until 10pm on Monday night, meaning Farah will miss the Blues function at The Star that night. The Storm are booked on the red-eye back to Melbourne on Sunday night and will arrive home in the early hours of Monday morning. McLean will then have to fly up to Sydney to join his teammates – unless the Blues tell him to pack a spare bag and head straight to The Star for recovery.
South Sydney have expressed interest in signing Roosters fullback Michael Gordon next season. Gordon is seen as a Mr Fix-it-type player, and with Greg Inglis expected to make the permanent move to the centres next season, the veteran back looms as a potential No 1 at South Sydney next year.
Alex Johnston has been offered a deal to remain at South Sydney as a winger, however he wants to play fullback. It's unlikely another club will guarantee him a fullback position, leaving him with a decision to make over the coming months.
Dane Gagai is expected to join South Sydney next season to form a strong centre combination with Inglis, while Gordon could solve their fullback conundrum. His professionalism will have a positive impact on the young players at the club, and could also play on the wing at a pinch.
DCE SUITS NSW
"Please pick Daly Cherry-Evans." That would be the message out of the NSW Origin camp given their success against the Maroons when the Manly No 7 has been calling the shots for Queensland.
With Johnathan Thurston racing the clock to prove his fitness, Cherry-Evans and Michael Morgan are the frontrunners to replace the Cowboys skipper if he is unavailable.
There's no doubt the Blues would prefer Cherry-Evans in the hot seat given that in his only two matches in the starting side, the Blues won both games.
He also came off the bench and played the majority of the opening game of the series in 2014 when Cooper Cronk broke his arm, going on to win that game as well.
KIWIS TO THE RESCUE
Just like he did at Penrith, Ivan Cleary has once again turned to Kiwis to help his rebuild project at the Wests Tigers.
Cleary, who lived in New Zealand during his time as Warriors coach, has developed quite a strong association with Kiwi players over the years and has shown that once again with his recruitment drive at the Tigers.
Ben Matulino and Russell Packer will feature in the engine room, while Tuimoalo Lolohea is on his way over to provide some spark to their attack.
The Tigers have also signalled interest in Kiwi Te Maire Martin, while there's also been reports linking them to Greg Eastwood. Cleary called upon several New Zealanders during his time at the Panthers to help rebuild the club, signing Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor, Dean Whare, Sika Manu and Isaac John to add to his complement of New Zealanders, which included Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Sam McKendry.
Cleary doesn't like the toll of Origin on NRL teams and has moved to limit the impact it will have on the Wests Tigers by his recruitment options so far. It's why Englishman Gareth Widdop was also so appealing, however the Dragons increased their offer to keep the Tigers at bay.
CLEARY BULLISH ON CAPTAINCY
Spotted: Josh Reynolds and future Bulldogs player Aaron Woods at Belmore Oval over the weekend. The injured duo turned out to watch the Tigers and Bulldogs do battle in the NSW Cup on Saturday.
There has been a suggestion from some disgruntled fans that Tigers coach Ivan Cleary should strip Woods of the captaincy for the remainder of the season, however Cleary is well aware of the ramifications his decision to take the captaincy off Luke Lewis had on Penrith.
Despite Woods' forthcoming departure, the prop has actually struck up a good relationship with the new coach and is a fan of the way he is leading the team.
BLUES AVOID SUNCORP
NSW have decided to abandon the traditional captain's run at Suncorp Stadium on the eve of a Queensland Origin match and will hold their final training session at CBus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast. They'll head into Brisbane on Tuesday afternoon, the day before the game, after nine days at their Kingscliff base.
MCILWRICK KEEPS STRIPES
Tigers hooker Matt McIlwrick has attracted some interest from Parramatta for next season, but it looks like he's about to sign a new deal to remain at the joint venture.
McIlwrick was originally signed as a back-up option to Matt Ballin but his impressive start to the season means he's now the club's No 1 hooking option.
The club also has a huge opinion of youngster Jacob Liddle, who appears to be close to finalising a contract extension.
BEAU IN SLOW-MO
It's no secret veteran Beau Scott has struggled for the Eels this season, hence why he had been dropped to the bench.
When he was left out of the Parramatta side for the clash against the Roosters on Sunday, the conspiracy theories went into overdrive. However we've been told the back-rower lost four kilograms through illness in the lead-up to the game.
Scott still has another year to run but given the lucrative contract he signed, he won't be going anywhere.
- Sydney Morning Herald