Toronto Wolfpack officials admit the prospect of Latrell Mitchell playing alongside Sonny Bill Williams would be exciting but quota restrictions and salary cap space make England rugby union centre Manu Tuilagi a more appealing option.
Williams will join the Canadian club on a two-year deal worth up to $10 million but as one of two marquee players only £150,000 of his annual salary is included in the salary cap.
Former Cronulla centre Ricky Leutele is Toronto’s other marquee player and is reportedly the highest-paid centre in the world on a deal equal to the $800,000 Mitchell rejected from Sydney Roosters.
After the Roosters told Mitchell to find another club, the 22-year-old is running out of options after Wests Tigers last week withdrew their $3.8 million, four-year offer and North Queensland all but ruled themselves out after signing Valentine Holmes.
Mitchell will travel to the Gold Coast this week to meet Titans coach Justin Holbrook and head of performance and culture Mal Meninga but with Rugby Australia rejecting an approach made through an advisor, he may be forced to consider a season in Super League.
The prospect of Mitchell and Williams in the same team would propel the Wolfpack into near favouritism for the 2020 Super League title and ensure massive ratings and crowds for their matches, while also generating huge interest in Australia and New Zealand.
Since confirming the signing of Williams last month, the Wolfpack has already set a new membership record and are aiming to double their 2019 total, while new sponsors are clambering to get on board with the club.
However, Wolfpack commercial director Martin Vickers said it would be extremely difficult for the club to accommodate Mitchell.
“We will always look to find a way,” Vickers said. “[But] the issues for us would be quota space and marquee player space.”
If the Wolfpack were to sign Mitchell either his or Leutele’s full contract would then have to be included in Toronto’s £2.1 million salary cap as the first of the club’s two marquee player spots has been allocated to Williams.
However, that is not the only obstacle to Toronto signing Mitchell as there is also a quota on the number of imports each Super League club is allowed and the Wolfpack are already at their limit.
It is understood the club is seeking confirmation from the RFL that Tuilagi, who was born in Samoa but has played 40 rugby union Tests for England after moving to Britain in 2004, would not impact on their quota of five foreign players.
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There are other benefits of signing Tuilagi over Mitchell - under Super League rules a player who has not previously played rugby league does not count against the salary in his first year and only 50% of his contract is included in his second season.
In fact, with a “returning talent pool dispensation” for recruits who have not played rugby league for five years, Israel Folau could be a more appealing signing for Super League clubs as only 50% of his salary cap would count in the first year of his contract and 25% in the second year.
However, Folau, who last played league for the Broncos in 2010 before switching to the AFL and then rugby union in 2013, would be included in the import quota.
The Wolfpack announced last week the re-signing of ex-Wests Tigers and Warriors forward Bodene Thompson and former St George Illawarra trio Josh McCrone, Chase Stanley and Blake Wallace, along with six other members of the team which helped the club earn promotion to Super League.
Toronto have 24 players on their roster and players 25-30 are salary cap exempt as they are usually development players but as an expansion club in a new rugby league territory the Wolfpack are seeking salary cap relief similar to that afforded to Melbourne in their early years.