Josh Morris will start in the centres for Cronulla against South Sydney on Saturday night as the Sharks explore alternatives to releasing the former international to Sydney Roosters.
A meeting of Cronulla’s retention and recruitment committee on Tuesday discussed a bid by the Roosters to reunite Morris with his twin Brett but no deal was reached and he was named at left centre for the opening-round clash at ANZ Stadium.
While it still appears likely that the Sharks and Roosters will eventually settle on a date for Morris to switch clubs, it is unclear what would happen should he be injured before making the move.
Cronulla CEO Dino Mezzatesta said talks with the Roosters would continue but there was no agreement to release Morris after the match against the Rabbitohs or at any other time, while the Sharks have not spoken with Roosters forward Poasa Faamausili about joining the club.
“In response to further speculation today surrounding Josh Morris, the Sharks can report that no deal has been reached, nor anything confirmed in relation to a potential release to Sydney Roosters,” an official Cronulla statement said.
“Discussions are continuing with all relevant parties, with Josh Morris to be named in the Sharks squad for their round one match on Saturday.”
The Sharks need to make room in their salary cap for an additional player before finalising their 30-man squad but have until June 30 to do so and are considering other options besides releasing Morris.
With outside backs Matt Moylan (calf), Josh Dugan (knee) and Bronson Xerri (shoulder) sidelined by injury, Cronulla coach John Morris wants to retain Morris until at least round five when he hopes to have some – if not all – of the star trio back on deck.
However, under NRL salary cap rules Morris cannot sign a contract with the Roosters that overlaps with his current Cronulla deal.
As a result, the Sharks would need to release him before any deal with the Roosters could be formalised by the NRL – raising concerns about what would happen if Morris suffered a serious injury in between.
The Sharks are also conscious of a backlash from fans if they were to release their leading try scorer in 2019 to join the back-to-back premiers without sufficient compensation.
It is understood a number of deals have been proposed but Cronulla are not yet ready to release a player they considered to be an integral part of their 2020 campaign, particularly after losing more than 900 matches in experience during the off-season.
The Roosters want Morris to play left centre after releasing Latrell Mitchell to South Sydney and losing his replacement Billy Smith to an ACL injury at training.
Former NSW State of Origin forward Angus Crichton will start in the centres against Penrith on Saturday night.
With the retirement of long-serving captain Paul Gallen and departure of dual premiership-winning prop Matt Prior, the Sharks are light on for middle forwards and Faamausili has been mentioned as a possible 12-month trade for Morris.
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However, the Sharks have already paid four months of Morris’s 2020 contract and are reluctant to let him go as he pushed for a two-year deal when the club signed him from Canterbury at the start of last season.
Morris was among a number of Cronulla players told during the off-season that they were free to talk to rival clubs as the Sharks needed to get their salary cap in order but Prior’s decision to sign with Leeds solved the problem.
He was one of Cronulla’s best players in their recent trial defeat of Manly and Sharks officials have no concerns about his level of commitment if he is forced to remain at the club, but Morris wants to take up the opportunity to finish his career playing alongside Brett.
The Sharks have been forced to seek dispensation from the NRL to include Jackson Ferris from their development players list in their 21-man squad for round one due to the injury crisis affecting their outside backs.
Ferris scored the winning try for the Newtown Jets in their State Championship victory last year and played in Cronulla’s pre-season trials against Canterbury and Manly.