While the standard dramas go down, there have been numerous pieces of #KiwiNRL business that have flown under the radar recently. Depending on how busy the #KiwiNRL market is, I'll provide regular updates via the #KiwiNRL Offseason Octopus to keep youz in the loop on any signings. This week we've got James Fisher-Harris, Jarome Luai, Ofahiki Ogden, Zane Musgrove and Sam Tagataese to suss out.
As two of those lads are with Penrith Panthers, we've only got one place to start and that's out in Sydney's west. The Panthers have allowed Trent Merrin to leave to the Super League, which one would assume has freed them up to invest further in two of their most promising young players; both of whom were contracted for 2019 but have been extended.
Hailing from the Hokianga, up in Northland, Fisher-Harris has been extended out for 2022 - a three year extension. Having dabbled in playing as an edge forward and through the middle, Fisher-Harris settled into his role as a middle forward where his mobility and aggression saw him have just as big an influence without the footy as he did with it.
Given that the Panthers plucked Fisher-Harris out of Northland, it's no surprise to see him stay loyal and continue to repay the Panthers for their faith in him. Without Merrin, there is a chance for Fisher-Harris to expand on his 58.3mins/game average and if he can get his average metres/run up closer to 9m/run than this season's 7.88m/run, he'll be taking his game to another level.
Luai's a wee bit more interesting as it's hard to see him cracking into the Panthers team while Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are there. Cleary is the long-term halfback, meaning that as Maloney either phases himself out or gets phased out, Luai will be ready to go. Perhaps more importantly, Luai will be there at Origin time fizzing for an opportunity.
Now signed until 2021, Luai had his contract extended for two more years. He has played a bit of fullback previously, however with Dylan Edwards coming back from injury along with #KiwiNRL options Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Caleb Aekins, Luai is most likely to stick with his halves duties.
Having captained the Junior Kiwis in 2017, Luai is another young #KiwiNRL halves prospect - of which there is a growing list. Luai played for Samoa at the World Cup and he'll have to decide who he's going to lean towards in terms of international eligibility. The though of Luai, Anthony Milford and Fa'amanu Brown operating as a play-making unit for Samoa could give them an identity to counter the rise of Tonga, if all involved play their cards right.
Also contracted for 2019 but extended for two more years, is Mangere East Hawks junior Ofahiki Ogden. Ogden was one of the Bulldogs' bright spots in 2018 and he has interestingly made the move from the edge, to middle forward since leaving Aotearoa Warriors to join the Bulldogs. Having made his debut mid-way through the season, Ogden played 9 games and hovered around averaging 10m/run - an almighty achievement in a debut campaign.
Expect Ogden to bump up his minutes/game closer to 30mins/game, after averaging 21mins/game. If he can maintain his crazy efficiency, I suspect we'll see Ogden catch the eye of many in 2019 and his package of size and mobility is exactly what the Bulldogs need moving forward. Also noteworthy here is that Ogden's Tongan and he would slot perfectly into the Tonga forward pack, either by demanded selection or via someone else being unavailable.
The Bulldogs also extended the contract of winger Reimis Smith for one year, locking him down for 2020 as well as 2019. Smith was a Junior Kiwi in 2016/17 and played alongside Luai in 2017, before making his mark in the NRL this season with some super funky tries and assists. Brett Morris has left for the Roosters and Josh Morris has moved to the Sharks, making this a massive summer for Smith as he can own that wing spot from round one.
New Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire has already made a low key impact at the Tigers, by bringing in Zane Musgrove who made his NRL debut under Maguire at the Rabbitohs. Musgrove is another Mangere East Hakws junior, who unfortunately got caught up in an off-field kerfuffle that limited his NRL involvement in 2018.
Musgrove's a big, mobile middle forward and there are weird similarities between him and Ogden. Linking up with an intriguing forward pack featuring fellow #KiwiNRL big boppers Ben Matulino and Russell Packer, along with the likes of Matt Eisenhuth and Alex Twal, Musgrove compliments the crew of middle forwards and adds even more grunt to a forward pack that could make some waves under Maguire.
Lastly, we've got Wellington's Sam Tagataese re-sgining with Brisbane Broncos for one more year. On the surface this may not feel overly noteworthy as Tagataese didn't get much game time in 2018, however the very reason why Tagataese didn't play regularly is the same reason why he has been kept around; the strong wave of young forwards coming through the Broncos.
Most of these young forwards are Polynesian and having Tagataese at the Broncos to continue to help guide those young forwards was important last year, now with change at the Broncos it is crucial. Sam Thaiday has retired and Josh McGuire's joined the Cowboys, meaning there is a lack of veteran nous in the forward pack and then we have the coaching swap. All that change is going to make Tagataese's guidance even more important next season.
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Peace and love 27.