Benji's warning to NRL rivals over Stefano pursuit

UPDATED: Shane Richardson and Benji Marshall are confident the Wests Tigers will be able to retain star front-rower Stefano Utoikamanu, despite a number of “very unusual” clauses in his contract at the end of 2024.

The 23-year-old, who is regarded as one of the best young players in the NRL, will technically become available to rival clubs at the end of the year should the Tigers miss the finals and he not be selected for State of Origin for at least two matches.

The clauses, which sees Utoikamanu hold an option in his favour for 2025, were installed by previous management at Concord in a bid to keep the prop happy.

However, with the Panthers now cashed-up and looking for a replacement for James Fisher-Harris, the Samoan international has become a prime target – not only for the reigning premiers, but for many other clubs.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, the interim Tigers chief executive acknowledged the unique nature of Utoikamanu’s situation, but believes there is hope all parties will come to an agreement that sees him remain in the black and gold.

“We want to retain him for the rest of his career, and we’ll do everything we can to do so,” Richardson said.

“They’re very unusual clauses. But they were based around the club we once were, I understand that, and we’re not that club any more.

“I’m not worried that there’s interest from Penrith or whoever – the reality is we want him to stay, and I believe he’ll stay. We’ll work something out in the next 60 to 90 days.

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