Origin call-ups to put salary cap squeeze on Dragons
St George Illawarra's anticipated contingent of players in the NSW Blues team has the potential to affect the club beyond the State of Origin period, with representative bonuses set to make a dent in the Dragons' salary cap.
While some fear the inclusion of up to five players in the Blues squad could disrupt their campaign midway through the season, there may be longer-term implications if the likes of Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin, Cameron McInnes and Euan Aitken have representative clauses in their contracts.
Under NRL rules, Origin bonuses must be included in a player’s salary cap value but can be carried forward to the year after he earned selection if the club does not have enough room that season.
Either way, clubs required to pay representative bonuses are affected as few are yet to fill their 30-man roster, as they are required to do by June 30, while players are also coming off contract for next season.
Interchange forwards Leeson Ah Mau, Jeremy Latimore and Hame Sele are among the Dragons players unsigned beyond this year and given their role in the club’s unbeaten start to the season they are expected to attract interest from rival clubs.
Ah Mau is in the sights of Newcastle and reportedly met with Knights officials earlier this month but the Samoan prop, who is looking forward to performing in front of his family when the Dragons meet the Warriors in Auckland on Friday night, is in no hurry to decide his future.
"We haven't really sat down and talked about it yet because there has been a few short turnarounds and that sort of thing," Ah Mau told NRL.com.
"Once we get a bit of a break we will definitely try to sort that out. I am fully enjoying my time here so we will see how it goes."
A feature of St George Illawarra’s early season form has been the impact of their bench players, led by Ah Mau who has averaged 121 metres from 11 runs in the opening six rounds and made two line-breaks, 19 tackles breaks, four offloads and scored a try.
"What’s been working for us is that everyone is just playing their role and that’s my job, just to come on and bring a bit of energy," Ah Mau said.
"We have got a team first mentality and everyone works hard for the team. We are putting in for each other and don’t want to let each other down, the whole 17. I am happy to do whatever job for the team.”
Ah Mau made his NRL debut in 2009 for the Warriors before moving to North Queensland and has been at the Dragons since 2012.
The 28-year-old said the signing of Ben Hunt and James Graham had given the Dragons improved self-belief.
"Ben and James have been great additions to our team, they definitely bring a lot of experience and they just give everyone confidence around them," he said.