Trent Robinson is confident Joey Manu's decade in the Roosters system will avoid a repeat of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's Bondi exit as cashed up rivals in both codes circle the Kiwi star.
Manu looms as the NRL's hottest free agent when he enters the final season of his current Roosters contract on November 1, and is set for a significant bump up on his estimated $700,000 salary, potentially toward the fabled seven-figure bracket.
The Warriors have been up-front about targeting the 24-year-old for 2023 and beyond while several other clubs are expected to weigh in if the Roosters can't get an extension signed off before the NRL's new financial year.
The chance to chase an All Blacks dream similar to New Zealand teammate Tuivasa-Sheck has also been flagged, though the timeline of a code switch targeting the 2023 Rugby World Cup appears difficult.
Warriors recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan called Roosters supremo Nick Politis to tell him the club 'would be going through the front door' in their pursuit of Manu given O'Sullivan's long history at the club.
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That includes signing a 15-year-old Manu and organising fly-in, fly-out arrangements for the shy teenager when he started out in the Roosters SG Ball ranks.
Now 25 with two premierships to his name and billing as the game's best centre, Manu's strong Tricolour ties hold the key to the club avoiding a repeat of Tuivasa-Sheck's 2015 exit, when the Warriors lured him home with an offer the Roosters just couldn't match.
"There's no concerns there in that sense," Robinson said when the similarities between the two Kiwis was put to him.
"There's obviously lessons learned in how that went about. But that's life. Joey is a different guy to Roger as well. He's been here for much longer as well. Roger was only here for a couple of years before he left whereas Joey's been here a long long time now.
"Joey's always been important to us. Ever since he was a kid and came over here you can see what he means to us as a team.
"He's been a Rooster, he is a Rooster, and his family are Roosters as well.
"So we understand, it'd be mad if there wasn't interest. But we definitely want to keep him as a Rooster."
The Roosters salary cap sits at a delicate stage beyond 2021 given the form of Manu and Angus Crichton, both off-contract and both retention priorities.
NRL.com understands new two-year deals for Billy Smith and Drew Hutchison are close to sign off as the Roosters undergo a changing of the guard fast-tracked by several retirements.
More than half the club's 2021 salary cap will be sidelined this weekend against Penrith in the form of medical retirees Boyd Cordner, Brett Morris and Jake Friend, as well as long-term casualties Luke Keary, Lindsay Collins, Smith, Matt Ikuvalu, Josh Morris and Joseph Suaalii.
But despite a wretched injury run unlike any in Robinson's coaching career, the Roosters have rallied with four straight wins of late and a 28-0 thumping of Parramatta.
A win over the Panthers, who are also carrying several injuries, would likely push the Tricolours into the top four as several younger players' NRL development is fast-tracked.
"It's been the most challenging [season] when it comes to personnel and experience [missing]," Robinson said.
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"Not only who's out, but the type of people that are out. Captains, leaders, halves.
"It's been tough but I feel really confident in the way that we want to play our footy. You can often use it as a crutch or as an excuse but we don't want to do that. We want to play really good footy and so we're just going to continue to keep going and keep pushing.
"There's still 17 guys in Roosters jerseys and they're improving.
"A lot of those young guys that have come in and they're taking up the slack. I think of Egan Butcher, Fletcher Baker, Drew Hutchison, Sammy Walker - these guys, they're better games are ahead of them, not behind them."
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