Having emphatically denied any speculation about a possible move to Melbourne Storm, Solomone Kata has signed with Melbourne Storm. Aotearoa Warriors released Kata from his current contract which finishes at the end of next year and are able to streamline their depth in the outside backs group, while Melbourne continue to bolster their rather impressive stack of players outside their top-17.
For the Warriors, they have got off Kata's contract early in a nifty move considering Kata's contract was sussed when Kata was an NRL centre and he's recently been playing reserve grade. That essentially means the Warriors were paying a reserve grader, his NRL value and that's all good as long as you don't have too many of those blokes in your system.
With no shortage of outside backs, who offer greater value than Kata, there's no fault in the Warriors releasing Kata. Gerard Beale is in a similar position to Kata in the sense that he's got an NRL contract to predominantly play reserve grade, however I'd suggest Beale's value isn't strictly in what he offers as a player. Beale is an experienced club-man, offering leadership to the Canterbury Cup team and Beale can seamlessly slot into centre or wing when required at the NRL level.
Kata had already been overtaken by Patrick Herbert, while another development this season has been Hayze Perham moving from fullback/halves to centre in reserve grade. Taane Milne can also offer centre cover, along with Adam Pompey who has been shifted to fullback in reserve grade. Flow into the Jersey Flegg group and Kayal Iro was named in the Cook Islands squad having played centre for the Flegg team all season, while Selestino Ravutaumada, Patrick Elia and Raymon Vaega are all simmering as enticing prospects.
A move to Melbourne is always going to be painted as a level up for any player, such is the quality of the Storm set up. That instantly offers Kata immense upside and there is every possibility that Kata taps into his potential, as a centre or any other position Craig Bellamy wants him in. The flipside though, is that many players go to Melbourne and are unable to crack the top-17.
Just ask Albert Vete, who shares many similarities with Kata. Vete went to the Storm last year and at the time it felt like a match made in heaven; Vete was a 1st 15 rugby leader at St Kentigern College who have strong ties to Melbourne Storm and Vete simply feels like a Storm type. Since signing with the Storm, Vete has played just one game though and is highly unlikely to add to that game before his contract is up at the end of this year.
There is a decent possibility, that Vete finishes up at the Storm having played one game ... he definitely won't have racked up more than five games total by the end of this season. The Storm released Patrick Kaufusi to join St George Illawarra Dragons over the weekend, but then signed Max King from Gold Coast Titans and with plenty of forward depth including #KiwiNRL prospects Kayleb Milne and Kelma Tuilagi (2018 Junior Kiwis), Vete is well down the pecking order.
Vete had two years on his deal when heading to the Storm, Kata has a year and a half on his current deal. Melbourne have been using Will Chambers and Marion Seve as their centre combo recently, with Curtis Scott currently out injured and then they also have Sandor Earl, Justin Olam and Nicho Hynes as outside back depth. The Storm have also been operating with two fullbacks in their top-17 as Jahrome Hughes is the main guy, with Ryan Papenhuyzen forcing his way into the team as an 'everywhere man'.
That is to say that it's difficult to see where Kata wiggles into this Storm outfit. There has been noise around the possible departure of Scott, which would bump Kata up a spot but that doesn't feel likely and I've currently got Kata as the fourth centre option - third when Scott is injured.
Just like with Vete, there's every chance that Kata plays out the bulk of this current deal in reserve grade up in Queensland. Kata will obviously benefit from being in the Storm system and while I have to keep it real, should Kata genuinely absorb all the coaching and information he receives at the Storm, I'm eager to see if Kata can make steady improvements.
Keeping it real though, has me pondering a situation where regardless of how well Kata goes in Melbourne, he'll struggle to crack their best team. I don't believe Melbourne signed Kata with an eye on Kata instantly contributing to their NRL team - so why would Melbourne want him?
There are a range of answers to that question. Possibly the relationship between Craig Bellamy and Stephen Kearney enabled the Warriors to offload Kata to a club that is going to help him develop. The Warriors don't want to pay NRL money to a reserve grader and the Storm may have that space to do so, plus the Warriors may want to operate in good faith with Kata to help him land in a good spot instead of kicking him out the back of their truck.
Melbourne may be aware of a possible Scott departure, or they may view Kata as being better used in a different position. This isn't a heavy commitment from Melbourne as it's only a year and a half, definitely not huge money and that means the Storm can't really lose in this deal.
Kata can't lose either as he joins the Storm system. Vete couldn't lose at the time of signing with Melbourne, but has since plateaued in reserve grade and there's a slim chance he is re-signed. That's the reality for Kata and I'm super intrigued to see how 2018 finishes for Kata; does he go down the Vete route or explode as Kata 2.0.
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