Josh Morris is set to start the season at fullback for Cronulla after the Sharks officially rejected his request for an immediate release so he can join brother Brett at the Sydney Roosters.
Sharks coach John Morris advised the former Australian and NSW representative on Tuesday that he was an integral part of his plans for this season and would not be released to the Roosters or any other club interested in luring him away from the Shire.
The 33-year-old was concerned that the return of centre Jesse Ramien from Newcastle would leave him on the outer but with Matt Moylan still struggling to overcome hamstring problems and doubts about Josh Dugan's playing future Morris has been training at fullback.
In a full-strength Cronulla team, he would be a member of arguably the most potent left edge in the NRL, along with Sharks captain Wade Graham and boom centre Bronson Xerri.
It is the emergence of the teen sensation which has placed pressure on the Sharks to balance their roster, with Cronulla now boasting four centres in Xerri, Ramien, Morris and Dugan who would all be in the starting line-up of any other NRL club.
Morris: 'Josh will be here in 2020'
With rival clubs able to table offers to Xerri from November 1, the Sharks are hoping to sign the 19-year-old on a long-term deal before then but releasing Morris now would not help their cause as he is off contract at the end of the season.
In addition, he is believed to be on less than half of Dugan's reported $900,000 per year deal, which is due to expire at the end of the 2021 season unless a degenerative knee injury forces him into premature retirement or he leaves for another club.
The Roosters are understood to have been prepared to sign Morris on the identical terms to his Cronulla contract as a replacement for Latrell Mitchell at left centre after talented youngster Billy Smith ruptured his ACL at pre-season training.
Morris was keen to reunite with his twin Brett after stints together at St George Illawarra and Canterbury but John Morris considers him too valuable to let go as he reshapes a Sharks team that lost 882 games of NRL experience at the end of last season.
The former Kangaroos star is now Cronulla's most experienced player, having played 286 Telstra Premiership matches, 15 Origins and six Tests since debuting for the Dragons in 2007, and is equally comfortable at centre, wing or fullback.
Morris said the veteran back would feature somewhere in his backline each week and rejected suggestions that Ramien's signing would have any impact on his position as he was a right centre and Josh Morris had been playing on the left.
"Josh Morris our most experienced player and he will be here in 2020," Morris said. "There is an option there for him to take up a deal to play with his brother but as head coach of the Sharks I have got to make sure I put out a competitive team on the park every week that can win us games and hopefully win the grand final.
"What are we to do, let our most experienced guy walk out 32 days before the competition starts. I think our members and fans deserve better than that.
"I believe we have communicated that back to Josh's management so I have let Josh know that today. I understand it is a hard thing to do but, like I said to Josh, there are other things at play. I doubt there would be one Sharks fan, player, staff member, supporter who would be happy to see Josh walk out the door."
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Besides his renowned try scoring strike rate and never give-up attitude in defence, Morris is considered a great mentor for Cronulla's young backs headed by Xerri, winger Ronaldo Mulitalo and fullback Will Kennedy.
Morris last week became a father for the second time when wife Elise delivered a brother, Jesse, for their daughter, Cali, but he has not missed a training session and insisted on travelling to Perth for the NRL Nines, starting this Friday.
"Josh is the ultimate professional," Morris said. "He is consistent, he is very durable, he rarely gets injured, he doesn't miss a session and if you watch him train he leaves nothing in the tank so that is the sort of person we want in our club.
"He is a crucial part of our team whether he be fullback, centre or wing and he is equally as good at all of them. The games he played wing last year he was statistically one of the best performing wingers [in the NRL].
"He has trained most of the pre-season at fullback. Everyone is talking about him playing wing but he is probably more chance of playing fullback at the moment because Matt Moylan is still restricted with his hamstring and Duges is out injured as well."
Dugan had limited involvement in training on Tuesday and Morris said the Cronulla medical staff were still trying to determine the severity of a knee injury that has restricted his involvement during the pre-season.
Morris said he was unsure when Dugan would be available to play but denied suggestions he had wanted to apply for a medical retirement.
"Nothing has come across our desk about a medical retirement," Morris said. "He is faced with an issue at the moment where it is a bit of a degenerative issue but we don't quite know what the complaint is and what is holding him back.
"Our doctors are onto it and our physios, and we are just trying to get him back to full fitness so he can return to the field. Until we know more that is the immediate focus for Josh.
"I had hopes for him before Christmas to play in the Nines and be pushing for selection. At the moment things will have to change pretty quick for him to pull the jumper on in round one."