Eels’ $800k target after Norman departs for Dragons
COREY Norman's exit to St George Illawarra in the coming days will hand Parramatta an $800,000 bonus to splash on post-Christmas player sales.
But rather than rush out to buy a world-class right centre to replace Jarryd Hayne, the answer to the Eels' biggest dilemma heading into 2019 is potentially staring Brad Arthur in the face.
Star recruit Blake Ferguson is now in the frame to make a shock switch from wing to centre.
Ferguson was brought to the Eels to fill the massive void left by Semi Radradra but it is understood Arthur is weighing up where the rampaging 28-year-old would be most valuable.
While Arthur would be reluctant to move Ferguson given his outstanding contribution on the wing for the Sydney Roosters, the Eels have a plethora of flank options including the likes of Bevan French, George Jennings, Josh Hoffman, Greg Leleisiuao and blockbusting 105kg Penrith recruit Maika Sivo.
Obviously none would match Ferguson's experience or impact, but there is also no better centre option available on the market.
Getting Ferguson to take over Hayne's role would serve another purpose, freeing up cash to chase another top notch front-rower after adding Junior Paulo to a pack that severely lacked punch in 2018.
The Eels also need to give boom youngster Dylan Brown a significant upgrade to warn off interest from the New Zealand Warriors.
Parra would have loved to have had the money available to have a crack at David Klemmer before he went to Newcastle and most likely Trent Merrin before he departed for the Super League.
But that's not to say another worthwhile investment won't emerge sooner rather than later considering existing NRL's contracts no longer seem to be worth the paper they are printed on.
Teenage sensation Brown will be one of the big winners to come out of Norman's exit. The 18-year-old is currently on a development contract but he will be fast-tracked into the top 30 squad.
The Eels are tossing up whether to partner Brown or Jaeman Salmon with Mitchell Moses in the halves. Salmon is facing an early season suspension for a recent low range drink driving charge that will give Brown first shot.
The Dragons have reportedly offered Norman a three-year deal worth about $600,000 for next year which will be topped up in 2020 by the money set aside for Gareth Widdop.
Norman will most likely partner his former Brisbane Bronco teammate Ben Hunt in the Dragons' halves with Widdop reverting to fullback for his final NRL season before heading back to England.
While Matt Dufty is a terrific young player, Widdop is world class and Norman's arrival definitely strengthens Paul McGregor's squad, making the Dragons genuine premiership contenders.
The only sticking point that remains is Norman coming to a separation agreement with the Eels.
While Norman's estimated $600,000 salary for 2019 at the Dragons is way below the reported $940,000 he is on at Parra, the Eels will have covered two months of his wages by the time he departs, totalling almost $160,000.
Understandably, that is why the Eels are baulking at forking out more to ensure the deal goes ahead.
Parra already has about $200,000 put aside in the salary cap for next season, meaning they will be ready to strike with the best part of $800,000 if the right player becomes available in the New Year.
The other position the Eels are skinny on is hooker but the club seems content with Kaysa Pritchard and young Reed Mahoney, while Will Smith can cover dummy-half.