Canterbury Bulldogs to hold recruitment meeting as St George Illawarra Dragons make enquiries about James Graham

The Canterbury Bulldogs have organised a recruitment and retention meeting for next week to outline a plan to get under the $9.4 million salary cap, with St George Illawarra making preliminary inquiries about the future of James Graham.

One of the options that is sure to be on the table at the Bulldogs meeting is allowing the skipper to depart Belmore with a year to run on his contract, with the Dragons having asked the question about the Englishman’s future.

The Dragons have identified Broncos front-rower Adam Blair as their priority target to replace the Wests Tigers-bound Russell Packer, but have done their due diligence on Graham in case they fail  to land Blair. The Dragons have discussed the possibility of a two-year deal for Graham but his manager is determined to secure a three-year contract that will allow the veteran prop to finish out his career in the NRL.

With Blair weighing up at least three-year deals from the Knights and Warriors, the Dragons are set to finalise their position next week and table an offer to entice the Kiwi to the joint venture despite the likelihood of him returning across the ditch to replace the Tigers-bound Ben Matulino.

The Dragons have discussed Graham as one of a couple of back-up options, but haven’t held discussions with the Canterbury prop.

Thursday’s NRL meeting with club chairs and CEOs saw the clubs unanimously agree on a $9.4 million salary cap, providing clubs with an extra $200,000 to spend than originally budgeted if the players agree to the figure on Monday.

Graham still has one year to run on his contract at the Bulldogs, which has been heavily back-ended, taking up  more than $900,000 in next year’s salary cap.

Even if another club agrees to take just half  his freight for next year, it will be a huge bonus for the Bulldogs as they look to free up salary cap space to accommodate the pending arrival of Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods in 2018.

“We will have a recruitment and retention meeting next week to discuss it,” Bulldogs chairman Ray Dib said. “Now that we know what the salary cap is likely to be we’ll be in a better position to have all those discussions that we need to have. We’re happy with the outcome of the meeting. All the clubs are united in moving forward. We still have to wait for the players to sign off on it, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Canterbury haven’t spoken to the Dragons about striking a deal to lure Graham to Wollongong, however now that the salary cap is on the verge of being settled at a higher-than-anticipated figure  the player market is likely to heat up again. One of the issues the Bulldogs face is  that they have lodged all signed contracts for 2018 to the NRL and will be unable to alter the figures to make sure they are under the cap.

Some of their rivals have signed players but have held off lodging the contracts to the NRL until they receive confirmation on next year’s cap, allowing them the flexibility to back-end deals and make necessary changes.

The salary cap will increase by $200,000 each year for next five years, providing clubs with an extra $1 million in the cap by the time the next broadcast rights deal comes to an end.

Dib, who has been accused by some clubs of agitating for his own benefit, appears to have been rewarded for his toil. While Canterbury were hopeful the cap would shoot up to as high as $9.6million for next year, he says it’s a good outcome for the Bulldogs and rival clubs.

“It’s a good outcome for everyone. We are all going to settle on $9.4 million,” Dib said. “We are very happy with it actually. It’s close to what we wanted.”

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