Prized Brisbane signing Adam Reynolds has taken the unusual step of defending Cronulla amid claims of botched negotiations by the NRL club, insisting he was very close to linking with the Sharks in 2022.
The South Sydney captain looked like a man with a heavy heart when he arrived in Brisbane on Thursday ahead of the NRL Magic Round to front media and confirm his three-year, $2 million-plus Broncos deal from next season after knocking back a Sharks offer.
While clearly disappointed to be ending a 10-season career at his childhood club, Reynolds said the challenge of rejuvenating the once-mighty Broncos into a premiership force again proved the difference in what he described as a "very close" tug of war for his signing.
Brisbane's Reynolds signing prompted claims that the Sharks had bungled talks after it emerged the in-demand playmaker had indicated he wanted to play under in-coming Sharks mentor Craig Fitzgibbon just weeks ago on a similar three-year deal.
But Reynolds, 30, surprisingly offered an unprompted backing of the Sharks administration's handling of negotiations as he got his head around signing off with the Rabbitohs in 2021.
"First of all I just want to say Cronulla were fantastic throughout the whole process," Reynolds said.
Reynolds will turn Broncos into finals force
"I know they are copping a bit in the media but Fitzy, I have a lot of respect for him and they dealt with the process accordingly.
"It was very close between them and Brisbane but I chose Brisbane."
Asked the million-dollar question of why, Reynolds said: "It's a fresh start for me and my family.
"It's a big club. It's a one-team town. It was a powerhouse back in the day.
"I believe there is a lot of potential there to get it back to where it needs to be.
"It's a challenge. I love challenges. I am a competitive person. I love winning ... but that (playing for Brisbane) is next year."
After South Sydney could only offer a one-year extension due to salary cap constraints, Broncos coach Kevin Walters and CEO Dave Donaghy trumped Cronulla and sealed the Reynolds deal when they flew into Sydney two weeks ago.
"Kevvie is a passionate man. You can see the emotion he brings to the club," Reynolds said.
"Having a few chats with him and Dave they have been pretty clear in the direction they want to go - that probably made the decision a bit easier as well."
Reynolds was well aware of the pressure awaiting him at Brisbane, who are yet to find a consistent match-winning playmaker since the heyday of Allan Langer and Darren Lockyer as they look to end a 15-year premiership drought.
"In Sydney we are under the same pressure (as Brisbane). South Sydney is a huge club, loyal supporters everywhere and the media is all over us," he said.
"There are a lot of similarities. But I think pressure is a good thing. You can use it to motivate you and get better."
Sharks v Rabbitohs - Magic Round
Not that Reynolds was preoccupied with his looming life in Brisbane.
The 2014 premiership winner said he was focused on going out a winner at South Sydney after the initial disappointment of leaving Redfern, breaking the news to his teammates via WhatsApp on Wednesday night.
"I understand that's football, not everything goes your way in your career - you just have to keep rolling with the punches," Reynolds said.
"It is never easy leaving the place that you have grown up your whole life - it is probably one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my life.
"But in saying that I am happy it is done and out of the way, and can move on and focus on footy.
The Magic of league
"I certainly will never quit once I have that jersey on.
"I can't say a bad word about the club. It is just unfortunate that we have to part ways at the end of the year (but) I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me as a young boy to achieve my dream."
Meanwhile, the Sharks are expected to offer Braydon Trindall the opportunity to become the club’s long-term halfback after losing Chad Townsend to North Queensland and missing out on Reynolds.
Cronulla only became interested in Reynolds three weeks ago after being taken by surprise when Townsend opted against taking up an option in his contract for next season and signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Cowboys.
After Reynolds' decision to join the Broncos, the Sharks are likely to step up negotiations with Trindall, while determining whether to make offers to fellow off-contract playmakers Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan.
Trindall, 21, has been called on to the bench for Saturday night’s match against Souths, with Moylan promoted to start at five-eighth after Johnson was ruled out by a hamstring injury sustained at training.
Johnson, who was due to make his 200th NRL appearance at this weekend’s Magic Round, has played just three games this season since returning from a torn Achilles tendon.
The final word ahead of festival of footy Magic
Cronulla had been linked with Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford after the Broncos signed Reynolds but it is understood that he is not a target for the Sharks.
Connor Tracey, who re-signed last week on a three-year deal, can also play five-eighth but spent the pre-season training at fullback and has mostly been used as a centre or winger this season.
The Sharks remain hopeful of re-signing forward Toby Rudolf and fullback Will Kennedy, who are also off contract at the end of the season, along with Josh Dugan, Aaron Woods, Aidan Tolman, Billy Magoulias, Will Chambers, Mawene Hiroti, Nene Macdonald and Kyle Patterson.
NRL Magic Round Brisbane 1-Day & 3-Day Passes are now on sale with eight massive games across round 10 at Suncorp Stadium this May. With the league's best players all heading to Brisbane, you'd hate to miss it! Tickets at NRL.com/Tickets.