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Foran set for Manly homecoming, but Hetherington won't join him

The Sea Eagles have all but sealed Keiran Foran's homecoming in the unfamiliar position of hooker on a one-year deal but Jack Hetherington won't be joining him on the Northern Beaches.

NRL.com understands that Manly and Foran are close to confirming a 2021 contract for the Sea Eagles premiership winner, with an option in the club's favour for the following season.

An official announcement is expected early next week.

Hetherington, meanwhile, has informed suitors Manly and the Warriors this week that his future does not lie with either club after being given permission to explore a move from Penrith.

Canterbury now loom as favourites for his signature should a release from his 2021 Panthers contract come about, though no formal offer has been lodged by the Bulldogs.

Talks are scheduled to continue next week between Hetherington's camp and both clubs.

Penrith are loath to lose the 24-year-old but won't stand in his way if he can secure a longer contract and regular NRL game time elsewhere.

Penrith forward Jack Hetherington was loaned out to the Warriors in 2020.
Penrith forward Jack Hetherington was loaned out to the Warriors in 2020. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Incoming Bulldogs coach and current Panthers assistant Trent Barrett looms as the trump card in potentially taking him to Belmore.

Hetherington's desire to stay in Sydney is understood to have ruled the Warriors out despite enjoying his loan stint with the club this season.

The Sea Eagles are still in the market for a front-rower after Addin Fonua-Blake's own Warriors move freed up a sizeable chunk of salary cap space to work with. Before that, Foran is their immediate priority.

Kieran Foran and coach Des Hasler during Manly's 2011 premiership-winning campaign.
Kieran Foran and coach Des Hasler during Manly's 2011 premiership-winning campaign.

Manly's roster has been a focus since Fonua-Blake's exit became public last week, with fellow big man Taniela Paseka upgraded on an extension until the end of 2024 and Manase Fainu also re-signed for another two years.

Foran's return has prompted club officials to tout a shift to hooker for the veteran playmaker.

The prospect of rekindling his halves partnership with Daly Cherry-Evans had caused angst around Josh Schuster's future given he has been touted as Manly's long-term five-eighth.

The 19-year-old is regarded as one of the game's best young halves, though he has only played 65 minutes of first grade. He remains contracted to the Sea Eagles until the end of 2022.

With Fainu still unavailable under the NRL's no-fault stand down policy until next July when he goes on trial over an alleged assault, a move into the forwards for Foran could offer much-needed depth in the hooking role.

Warriors v Sea Eagles - Round 20

Danny Levi has been told he won't be offered a contract for 2021, while Cade Cust and Lachlan Croker are the other half-hooker options in Manly's squad as the injured Dylan Walker eyes a move from five-eighth back to the centres.

Whether Foran's body can hold up to the physical demands of defending up front is the biggest question.

He is nursing a ruptured pectoral that is expected to sideline him until Christmas after an injury-plagued stint at Canterbury.

Bulldogs v Panthers - Round 20

It was Hasler that first brought Foran to Belmore before his own tenure ended in 2017, with the Kiwi international playing just 40 games in three years for the Bulldogs when his multimillion-dollar deal ranked him as one of the best-paid playmakers in the NRL.

When Foran did get on the paddock he was consistently one of Canterbury's best and worked his way back into the New Zealand Test side last year before cruelly suffering a dislocated shoulder five minutes into his Kiwis return.

The Bulldogs tabled a one-year offer to keep Foran, but the 30-year-old opted to go to market in search of a longer deal.