THE Roosters' salary cap spine squeeze has taken another turn with five-eighth Luke Keary now linked with a shock move out of Bondi.
The premiership-winning playmaker could be on the way out of the Roosters as a direct consequence of the club's big-money deals with Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco.
The 25-year-old finds himself in a very different situation to teammate Mitchell Pearce, who has also been linked with a move to rival clubs for completely different reasons.
Pearce has held crisis meetings with Roosters coach Trent Robinson following reports he is disgruntled about potentially being demoted to playing off the bench behind Cronk in 2018.
Keary's potential move to a rival club is not linked to the Roosters' headache of trying to squeeze Cronk, Pearce and the former Rabbitohs star onto the field at the same time.
The Australian's Brent Read told Fox League's NRL 360 on Monday night Keary is in contract talks with the Roosters to extend his deal beyond the end of the 2018 season.
However, the Roosters are yet to meet his salary demands after feeling the crunch from their recent signings of Cronk and Tedesco.
Keary is contracted for the 2018 season, but Read said it is possible the club would allow him to leave early if he is offered a big-money deal elsewhere - that the Roosters simply can't match with their star-studded roster and salary cap pressure.
"The interesting thing about Keary is they're (the Roosters) in talks with him about a contract extension and from what I can understand the offer hasn't been that good," Read told Fox Sports' NRL 360.
"It's nowhere near what Luke Keary would expect so maybe, if they can't reach an agreement with Luke Keary on an extension, maybe it's Keary who goes and Mitchell Pearce plays five-eighth."
Keary's move would ease the headache surrounding the future of former captain Pearce, however, a number of NRL legends, including Peter Sterling and Mark Geyer have already said a potential halves combination between Pearce and Cronk - with Pearce playing in the No. 6 jumper - simply wouldn't work.
Sterling said on Monday night Keary's running game is the perfect sidekick to Cronk's flawless game management.
NRL legend Matthew Johns on Tuesday said Keary remains the best option to play at five-eighth for the Roosters in 2018 with Pearce likely to be relegated to playing second fiddle to Jake Friend in the No. 9 position.
He said while Cronk's recruitment has certainly created friction across the club, the positives of signing the Kangaroos playmaker far exceed the negative consequences.
"You get to create potentially one of the best combinations in the competition with Cronk and Tedesco," Johns told Triple M's Grill Team.
"A lot hasn't been made about that. And potentially the best spine in the competition which is Tedesco, Keary, Cronk, Tedesco and the No. 9 combination of Pearce and Friend."
Roosters fans are anxiously awaiting the fate of Pearce after coach Trent Robinson met for crisis talks with the incumbent NSW State of Origin No. 7 on Monday.
Pearce, who has two years remaining on his contract, is being strongly pursued by Manly and has also been linked to Cronulla and Newcastle.
The 28-year-old reportedly told Robinson last week he wanted to explore other options, but Robinson remains adamant Pearce has a future at the Roosters despite the club now having three representative halves.
Cronk, though, believes Robinson can make it work and told Pearce as much during "a chat" with his Origin counterpart on Monday.
"It wasn't me about convincing him or preaching or anything like that. Mitchell's been front and centre of the Roosters for a long time," the champion Queensland half said on Fox sports' NRL 360.
"He's got an arsenal of weapons to play in the halves and dominate.
"It's going to be something that we can work together. That's my preferred option; is that everyone stays and buys into the Roosters culture, which I'm going to have to dive straight into and understand as quickly as I possibly can.
"From my point of view, as long as every player's got the ability, can be selfless, work hard and - when it comes down to the crunch - put the team first, then I'm sure what system Trent chooses on a Saturday night or a Friday night or whatever time slot that we play, I'm sure the best team will be out on the paddock."
While Cronk will officially join the Roosters in early 2018 following his World Cup commitments with Australia, Pearce has plenty of options if he indeed wants out of the Roosters.
Manly coach Trent Barrett is a big fan, but the Blues playmaker would also have to jostle with Daly Cherry-Evans for the Sea Eagles' No.7 spot - or play five- eighth.
Cronulla would appear the best fit for Pearce if he leaves the Roosters. He could reunite in the halves with 2013 grand final-winning teammate James Maloney in a Sharks outfit that would feature half the Blues backline should Pearce join St George Illawarra star Josh Dugan in arriving next season.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has also expressed interest in Pearce, having already snapped up the Roosters trio of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra and Connor Watson.
Pearce will command around $800,000 a season to leave the Roosters.
Cronk, meanwhile, will be paid a reported $1 million a season after ending his hugely successful 14-year career with the Storm, where he contested seven grand finals and won premierships in 2012 and 2017.
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