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Knights centre Bradman Best.

A looming long-term deal for Newcastle's Bradman Best and Stephen Crichton's lucrative extension at Penrith highlight the dearth of strike centres in the NRL, and the premium that clubs are placing on them when they do develop one.

Best is understood to be in positive talks with the Knights around an upgraded, two-year extension until the end of 2024, as first reported on Wednesday by the Newcastle Herald.

 

Best doesn't turn 20 until August and given he's already signed up for 2022, wasn't able to formally negotiate with NRL rivals until well after this season on November 1.

But Newcastle's moves to lock him down for potentially another three seasons, having already signed him on a four-year deal when he was 17, shows the Knights are backing one of the NRL's best young talents to the hilt.

Blues centre Stephen Crichton.
Blues centre Stephen Crichton. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Penrith have done likewise with the 2021 upgrade and two-year extension for Crichton that was confirmed on Wednesday, which is believed to be worth around $650,000 a season - a sizeable pay rise on his most recent deal.

Brisbane have tabled an initial extension offer for injured rising star Kotoni Staggs, who has declared he wants to stay at Red Hill, yet still ranks as one of the most in-demand players in the game.

A market value of $650-700,000 has been touted for the Dally M centre of the year despite the uncertainty that comes with an ACL rupture.

Staggs's negotiations are expected to have a knock-on effect for the likes of off-contract veteran Dane Gagai and Broncos teammate Xavier Coates, who loom as the next best available three-quarters in the market.

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Should Staggs cash in at the touted rate with his next deal, he has the potential to skew the positional market as other signings have done in recent seasons.

Angus Crichton's move from the Rabbitohs to arch rivals Sydney Roosters on a lucrative deal in 2017 led to more back-rowers being paid big money.

Andrew Fifita's retention at Cronulla in 2014, after a reported $3.2 million four-year deal with the Bulldogs fell over, prompted a similar rise in the market for front-rowers.

There has been a shift in backline valuations in recent years.

The rise of wingers in importance to a game plan – think Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson at Parramatta, Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu for Melbourne – have been mirrored by clubs spending less on out-and-out centres as back-rowers and utilities can be shuffled into the three-quarter line.

Case in point, last year's Origin series saw Queensland rookie Brenko Lee selected in game three as the only specialist centre for the series, with Jack Wighton, Clint Gutherson, Dane Gagai and Kurt Capewell all slotting into their line-ups.

Melbourne amplified that with Lee playing above and beyond his estimated $150,000 salary en route to last year's premiership alongside Justin Olam, another mid-tier earner.

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Potentially changing that game though is the emergence of Staggs, Crichton, Best and Zac Lomax, all of whom are touted for representative careers given their NRL trajectories.

Much like Newcastle and Penrith, the Dragons moved to tie up Lomax on bumper five-year deal last off-season with the jury still out on whether he is best suited at centre or fullback.

As with balancing the books anywhere in an NRL roster, if you spend big in one position outside the playmaking spine, it means a little less to allocate elsewhere.

For the right talent it appears, clubs are still willing to invest significantly in a strike centre.