Manly shake off cap drama to sign Dragons gun
RUGBY LEAGUE: Manly have made their first signing since being hit by the NRL with a breach notice over salary cap irregularities, luring Dragons second-rower Joel Thompson on a two-year deal.
The Sea Eagles have been given an extension by the NRL to respond to the allegations and have until January 31 to submit their defence.
It was thought that the breach notice would make it difficult for Manly to add to their roster before the 2018 season kicked off but on Friday the club confirmed it had secured Thompson on a two-year deal.
"Joel is a player I have admired for a long time. I coached him in the Country team a couple of years ago,'' Manly coach Trent Barrett said.
"Not only is Joel a terrific bloke and a terrific leader but he is extremely competitive and very tough. He is a professional.
"Joel has played plenty of first grade and his experience is something I thought our squad needed.
"Not only will the team benefit from it but also a lot of our young individuals will benefit too from having someone like Joel around."
Thompson had been back at pre-season training with the Dragons, with one year still to run on his deal with the Red V, his club of the past four seasons.
However, the Dragons confirmed they had decided to release the veteran, effective immediately.
"Joel and his management approached us about the long-term future he had at the Dragons. It was apparent Joel was looking to secure a long-term contract for his family beyond 2018," Dragons' spokesman Ian Millward said.
"We wanted Joel as part of our Top 30 this season so obviously we had a big decision to make.
"We said all along that we didn't want him to leave but we did respect what he was doing for his family long-term which is why we hesitantly granted him that permission.
"However we're very confident, with Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims, Luciano Leilua and Jacob Host, that we have the depth in the back row to replace Joel."
Manly have been circling Thompson for several months but their pursuit of the 29-year-old went cold as Mitchell Pearce became their number one target.
Their efforts to sign the star playmaker ultimately came up short, with Thompson coming back on the radar as the Sea Eagles looked to stiffen up their back-row.
Thompson's signing is a strong sign that the Sea Eagles are happy with their existing playmaking stocks, indicating that either Jackson Hastings or Lachlan Croker will be given first opportunity to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves in 2018.
Thompson played 85 NRL games for the Dragons, and said he was grateful for the club's understanding in agreeing to release him.
"It's an emotional day leaving this great club. But with three girls and a young family I had to make that decision," Thompson said.
"It's going to be really tough leaving the staff, the players and the fans. Everyone has been unbelievable to me and I can't thank them enough.
"I've not only grown as a footballer but as a person at the Dragons. Everyone has helped me so much and I couldn't be more grateful and thankful for what they've done for me."
Manly CEO Lyall Gorman said Thompson would bring a lot to the club both on and off the field.
"Joel brings a strong passion and commitment through not just his on-field performances but also his off-field contribution in the community," said Gorman.
"His dedication to adding value across the community is an area to which our club is genuinely committed and one for which Joel was recently recognised through being the well deserved recipient of the NRL Ken Stephen Medal for Community Service."
Thompson will be favoured to win a starting jersey for the Sea Eagles and will likely complete a back-row that will also include Curtis Sironen and Jake Trbojevic.