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How bottom eight teams are aiming to improve in 2021

Addin Fonua-Blake and Jack Hetherington could form a new-look front row for the Warriors next season if former New Zealand captain Adam Blair decides that Sunday’s match against Manly is his last for the club.

Blair has an option in his contract for another season with the Warriors but is yet to advise the club whether he intends to play on in 2021 or will bow out at Central Coast Stadium as the longest-serving Kiwi player in premiership history, with 331 NRL appearances.

The former Storm, Tigers and Broncos forward is reportedly considering an off-field role with the Warriors, which would pave the way for incoming coach Nathan Brown to sign both Fonua-Blake and Hetherington for next season.

Despite doubts about whether they will again be based in Australia next season or can play out of Auckland, the Warriors have been the most active club in the transfer market and are set to field a vastly stronger line-up in 2021 than the one which won the hearts of fans on both sides of the Tasman.

The Warriors are also one of five clubs outside the top eight to have decided to change coaches in a bid to improve their finals hopes for next season but a look at player movement across the NRL suggests most will need to do so with similar rosters.

Every try from round 19

While 65 players changed clubs this season, the number of players who have so far agreed to move to another NRL team in 2021 is less than 20.  

Gold Coast have recruited star Queensland second-rower David Fifita, boom Melbourne lock Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and former Kiwis forward Herman Ese’ese, while Canterbury have signed  NSW winger Nick Cotric, veteran playmaker Blake Green and Manly second-rower Corey Waddell.

New Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett is expected to make more signings but besides the capture of Penrith captain James Tamou and rookie Parramatta prop Stefano Utoikamanu by Wests Tigers and the departure of Titans forwards Ryan James (Canberra) and Jai Arrow (South Sydney), there has been little other movement.

Fonua-Blake is poised to become the next big name to switch clubs and is expected to decide his future within days after requesting a release from the remaining two years of his Manly deal, with the Warriors favourites to sign the Tongan prop.

Hetherington has also received permission from Penrith to negotiate with rival clubs and the Warriors are keen to secure his services on a permanent basis after an impressive six-match loan stint earlier in the season.

Bottom 8 squads, targets and prospects

New Zealand Warriors

Coach: Nathan Brown.

Contracted players: Euan Aitken, Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau, Josh Curran, Wayde Egan, Kane Evans, Jackson Frei, David Fusitu’a, Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Peta Hiku, Eliesa Katoa, Karl Lawton, Ken Maumalo, Jack Murchie, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Kodi Nikorima, Agnatius Paasi, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Jazz Tevaga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

With New Zealand Test prop Leeson Ah Mau having missed the Warriors' entire campaign since the season was rebooted on May 28 after suffering a pectoral muscle injury at training in Tamworth, Brown will already have improved forward depth at his disposal next year.

Tonga second-rower Ben Murdoch-Masila will join the club from Warrington, along with Parramatta and Fiji front-rower Kane Evans and St George Illawarra centre Euan Aitken.

Get Caught Up: Round 19

Brisbane Broncos

Coach: TBA.

Contracted Players: Jesse Arthars, Jack Bird, Ethan Bullemore, Pat Carrigan, Xavier Coates, Brodie Croft, Tom Dearden, Tyson Gamble, Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Alex Glenn, Payne Hass, Jamayne Isaako, Matt Lodge, Andrew McCullough, Anthony Milford, Tesi Niu, Corey Oates, Joe Ofahengaue, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Tevita Pangai jnr, Jordan Riki, Kotoni Stags, Jake Turpin.

The Broncos are expected to appoint a new CEO and coach before any major recruitment decisions are made, with the coaching job believed to be a race in two between Kevin Walters and Paul Green.

Whichever of the pair takes charge will inherit a talented roster low on experience and confidence after the worst season in the club's history.

Brisbane have lost Fifita to the Titans, while Darius Boyd is retiring and there are a number of players unsigned. Andrew McCullough has an option to return after a mid-season move to Newcastle this year.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Coach: Trent Barrett

Contracted players: Jake Averillo, Dean Britt, Christian Crichton, Nick Cotric, Adam Elliott, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Blake Green, Will Hopoate, Josh Jackson, Sione Katoa, Lachlan Lewis, Jeremy Marshall-King, Nick Meaney, Dylan Napa, Ofahiki Ogden, Jayden Okunbor, Chris Smith, Reimis Smith, Joe Stimson, Luke Thompson, Renouf To’omaga, Corey Waddell, Brandon Wakeham, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

The playmaking roles are the ones that most need strengthening but the signing of Green on a one-year deal suggests Barrett may be prepared to wait until 2022 when the likes of Matt Burton, Tom Dearden and Kyle Flanagan become available.

However, Green is likely to miss most of next season after rupturing his ACL in just his third match for Newcastle after a mid-year move from the Warriors.

Gold Coast Titans

Coach: Justin Holbrook

Contracted players: Tannah Boyd, AJ Brimson, Erin Clark, Anthony Don, Herman Ese’ese, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Darius Farmer, Beau Fermor, David Fifita, Moeaki Fotuaika, Jamal Fogarty, Jaimin Jolliffe, Brian Kelly, Greg Leleisiuao, Sam Lisone, Tyrone Peachey, Jonus Pearson, Kevin Proctor, Mitch Rein, Phillip Sami, Treymain Spry, Ashley Taylor, Corey Thompson, Jarrod Wallace, Jai Whitbread.

With an exciting backline and a star-studded forward pack in place for next season, hooker is the position the Titans are keen to bolster and officials are keeping a close eye on developments in Melbourne.

If Cameron Smith decides to play for the Storm again next year, Gold Coast may make a play for New Zealand star Brandon Smith, as Harry Grant is due to return to Melbourne after his loan deal with Wests Tigers expires at the end of the season. 

Tackle of the Week: Round 19

Manly Sea Eagles

Coach: Des Hasler

Contracted players:  Morgan Boyle, Daly Cherry-Evans, Lachlan Croker, Cade Cust, Manase Fainu, Addin Fonua-Blake, Tevita Funa, Reuben Garrick, Jack Gosiewski, Morgan Harper, Sean Keppie, Haumole Olakau’ata, Brad Parker, Taniela Paseka, Joshua Schuster, Toafofoa Sipley, Curtis Sironen, Moses Suli, Jorge Taufua, Martin Taupau, Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic, Dylan Walker.

The departure of Fonua-Blake would give the Sea Eagles salary cap room to sign an established five-eighth to partner Daly Cherry-Evans, with Kieran Foran linked to a return to Brookvale after not being offered a new deal by Canterbury.

Hooker is another position the Sea Eagles appear light on after deciding to let Danny Levi go, along with Brendan Elliott and Tony Williams, while the club has lost second-rowers Joel Thompson (St Helens) and Corey Waddell (Canterbury).

North Queensland Cowboys

Coach: Todd Payten

Contracted players: Jake Clifford, Scott Drinkwater, Mitchell Dunn, Kyle Feldt, Tom Gilbert, Jake Granville, Coen Hess, Peter Hola, Valentine Holmes, Corey Jensen, Connelly Lemeulu, Esan Marsters, Josh McGuire, Jordan McLean, Francis Molo, Michael Morgan, Justin O’Neill, Emry Pere, Reece Robson, Tukimihia Simpkins, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi, Jason Taumalolo, Shane Wright.

Payten doesn't have a lot of room for new signings in his first season as most of the current squad are under contract for next season.

Josh McGuire has been linked with a move to St George Illawarra next season but new Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, who coached him at Brisbane, has played down the chances of the Queensland enforcer leaving Townsville.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Coach: Anthony Griffin

Contracted players: Eddie Blacker, Billy Brittain, Adam Clune, Jack de Belin, Matt Dufty, Mathew Feagai, Max Feagai, Jackson Ford, Tyrell Fuimaono, Ben Hunt, Josh Kerr, Blake Lawrie, Zac Lomax, Cameron McInnes, Trent Merrin, Corey Norman, Jordan Pereira, Cody Ramsey, Mikaele Ravalawa, Jason Saab, Korbin Sims, Tariq Sims, Jayden Sullivan, Paul Vaughan, Brayden Williame.

Griffin is keen on luring Queensland and Tonga forward Joe Ofahengaue from Brisbane, while winger Jason Saab has been linked with a trade for Manly's Reuben Garrick, a Dragons junior from Gerringong.

However, Griffin's main focus will be developing the young backs at the club headed by Lomax, Ramsey, the Feagai twins and Sullivan. 

How possible Cowboys move could help Young in the long term

Wests Tigers

Coach: Michael Maguire

Contracted players: Josh Aloiai, Shawn Blore, Kane Bradley, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee-Kam, Zac Cini, Adam Doueihi, Luke Garner, Joey Leilua, Luciano Leilua, Jacob Liddle, Jock Madden, Moses Mbye, Thomas Mikaele, Zane Musgrove, David Nofoaluma, Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds, Jake Simpkin, Tommy Talau, James Tamou, Alex Twal, Stefano Utoikamanu, Billy Walters.

After signing Tamou last week, the Tigers are now focused on finalising a move from Melbourne for NSW Origin winger Josh Addo-Carr.

The Storm want a player of similar ability to replace Addo-Carr before releasing him, with Tigers winger David Nofoaluma mentioned.  

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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