Cronulla have told star trio Shaun Johnson, Josh Dugan and Aaron Woods they will not be offered contract extensions at the club as the club's chequebook goes towards a scrum base partner for Nicho Hynes and backline reinforcements.
NRL.com understands off-contract big earners Johnson, Dugan and Woods were told by club officials on Thursday that their futures lie elsewhere beyond 2021.
The decision continues a roster overhaul under incoming coach Craig Fitzgibbon after Hynes was signed to play in the halves next season.
Retention talks are underway with Matt Moylan, who is facing a significantly reduced offer to stay at Cronulla, after Johnson was tabled a one-year deal believed to be worth roughly half his current $800,000 salary.
Johnson's reluctance to entertain that offer, as well as the expected offloading of Dugan and Woods, frees up the best part of $2 million in Cronulla's salary cap.
The season so far: Round 7-12
Cronulla haven't ruled out securing another playmaker in the market if a deal with Moylan can't be worked out either.
Back up half Brayden Trindall remains a re-signing priority as the club continues talks with the 21-year-old playmaker.
The Sharks are still in the market for outside backs given a raft of injuries exposed their depth out wide this year, while both Cronulla officials and Dale Finucane's agent have dismissed any pursuit of the off-contract Storm skipper.
Cronulla already have Cameron McInnes arriving as a lock next year, and Toby Rudolf's re-signing alongside the likes of Braden Hamlin-Uele, Franklin Pele, Andrew Fifita leaving them well-stocked up front.
Sharks skipper Wade Graham told Fox Sports on Friday night that he was confident Johnson, Dugan and Woods would get new deals at other clubs.
"It’s a tough one. It’s always a hard situation when those sorts of decisions are made," he said.
"I think the reality is we did have a lot of guys off contract and we were never gonna be able to keep everyone. But with those guys, I think certainly the way I look at it is bad news is better than no news.
"Once the club made a decision, they were up front.
"They let the players know and now their focus can be on the final part of the season and hopefully secure their future somewhere else, playing some good footy for the Sharks and getting the best out of the year and the best for their future."
For the Storm, Hynes's exit frees up some salary cap space to improve their chances of keeping Finucane, although a utility replacement is also a priority.
Melbourne are understood to have made an offer to Broncos half Tyson Gamble recently, however his priority is to remain at Red Hill as extension talks continue.
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The Broncos and Warriors were among rival clubs to table offers for Hynes, with Kevin Walters confirming on Wednesday that Queensland stars Gagai, Kurt Capewell and Jaydn Su'A remain on his radar.
Speaking on Brisbane's 4BC radio, new CEO Dave Donaghy said the club would look to its current stocks – chiefly highly rated teen Selwyn Cobbo, who'll make his NRL debut on Thursday at Kogarah, and current custodian Jamayne Isaako – to fill the No.1 jersey after missing out on Hynes.
"In terms of fullback we’re going to be looking internally, and look to strengthen other parts of our squad moving forward," Donaghy said.
"Selwyn Cobbo is a talented kid but he’s still a kid and we just want him to go well [against the Dragons] for us and for him – he’s worked really hard to give Kevvie the confidence to pick him and to re-sign him."
For Hynes, the chance to land a regular NRL halves role at the Sharks and Fitzgibbon's impressive vision across several meetings proved the clincher.
Storm v Titans - Round 13
Having only signed a 12-month Storm extension late last season after bouncing around the traps for several years, his stunning 2021 form suddenly made him a man in demand for the first time in his career.
But the 24-year-old was still left with a heavy heart when it came time to tell the Storm this would be his last season in purple, delivering a sincere address to teammates at their Sunshine Coast base.
"There was a little bit of emotion," Storm captain Jesse Bromwich said.
"I think he struggled to get the words out but he was able to get up and do it in front of the team and it really meant a lot.
"We would've loved to have kept him and he would've loved to have stayed but he has to take his opportunities.
"He's got a lot of mates at this club. He's a really good guy and all the boys love having him around.
"If I was being selfish it's a little bit disappointing. But I don't think we could've kept him. It did feel bittersweet, it's disappointing to see him go.
"But I'm happy for him to go and hopefully reach his potential and have a really long NRL career."