Api Koroisau wants Stefano Utoikamanu at Wests Tigers for life as the prop’s State of Origin omission moves him one step closer to the open market.

Utoikamanu’s career-best form to start the year wasn’t enough to secure him a second NSW cap in Wednesday’s Origin series opener, with new coach Michael Maguire instead preferring Isaah Yeo and Spencer Leniu as middle-forward options on his bench.

Utoikamanu is contracted with the Tigers through 2025, but his deal includes a get-out clause that allows him to join a rival club next year if he fails to be selected for two Origin games in 2024 and his NRL outfit miss out on finals.

With the Tigers languishing in 16th spot on the ladder and only two more NSW teams to be picked this year, there’s a very real chance Utoikamanu could be lured away.

Cashed-up Penrith are among those interested in the 24-year-old, as a replacement for the outgoing James Fisher-Harris.

The Tigers have remained publicly confident Utoikamanu, rated one of the NRL’s best young forwards, is happy at the club and reports this week linked him to a new deal.

Club captain Koroisau is hopeful Utoikamanu will stay put as the long-term strugglers continue their rebuild under coach Benji Marshall.

“It’s out of our control,” Koroisau said.

“I’m sure he’s got a million people in his ear at the moment. I make jokes around it, that’s my way of coping. That’s my way of trying to keep him here.

“(The contract situation) is a weird position to be in. He’s so young and he’s such a great athlete, great rugby league player.

“He’s a young man, he’s got to look after himself, but I hope he’s a Tiger for life. I love playing beside him. Stef, don’t leave.”

Utoikamanu’s powerful start to the year has also impressed fellow front-rower Alex Twal.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 21: Stefano Utoikamanu in action during a Wests Tigers NRL training session at Gilbert Park on July 21, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

“He’s a massive body, big athletic thing. With the way the game’s going at the moment, players like big Stefano and those blokes, it definitely suits him,” Twal said.

But like Koroisau, Twal is reluctant to sit Utoikamanu down for a heart-to-heart chat about his future.

“I encourage every single player in the squad to do what’s best for them and their family, because ultimately your family is number one and everything else comes second,” he said.

“Whatever decision he makes, first and foremost – as a good friend and teammate – I’ll be supporting him.”

Saab continues long-term journey at Manly

Anthony Seibold says Jason Saab is close to becoming a representative winger after the 23-year-old signed a contract extension that keeps him at Manly until the end of 2029.

It comes as cashed-up Penrith tie premiership-winning second-rower Luke Garner to a new two-year deal.

Rated one of the biggest aerial threats and fastest players in the game, Saab was previously contracted through 2026.

Injury has disrupted his 2024 campaign, with a hamstring problem suffered in the Las Vegas season opener sidelining him for more than a month before he went down again with a shoulder issue.

But Saab has returned to the field in recent weeks and shown impressive form.

“The improvement Jason has shown over the last 18 months is significant,” Seibold said.

“I believe he can now become an elite winger, a representative-class winger.

“It’s within reach. He has always had the potential.

“We’ve seen ‘Saaby’ score some great tries since he has come into first grade, but the consistency in his game has grown.”

Saab made his NRL debut for St George Illawarra in 2019 but has played 68 of his 75 NRL games for Manly, who he joined in 2021. He has scored 53 tries.

Saab is now on the second-longest contract of any active Sea Eagle, trumped only by State of Origin second-rower Haumole Olakau’atu, who is tied to the club through 2031.

Elsewhere, the Panthers have signalled their commitment to Garner by extending him through 2026, even as star second-rower Isaiah Papali’i prepares to join the club from next season.

Garner arrived at Penrith from Wests Tigers, where Ivan Cleary handed him his NRL debut in 2018, and has become one of a handful of players to spend time in the left second-row spot vacated by Viliame Kikau at the end of 2022.

Also able to play centre in a pinch, Garner started from the bench as the Panthers took out the 2023 grand final with a 26-24 defeat of Brisbane.

The 28-year-old is set to bring up his 100th NRL appearance later this season, having played 97 first-grade games so far.

“To stick around here for another two years is pretty exciting. It’s great to see where this club is going and I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” Garner said.

The signing bolsters a Panthers outfit that has cash to spare after agreeing to release James Fisher-Harris at the end of the year. Securing a top-quality middle forward appears a high priority for the triple reigning premiers.

with AAP





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