Warriors young gun Ata Hingano has been granted a release from his junior club with a move to Canberra Raiders loom as Ricky Stuart adds further depth to his playmaking stocks.
Despite inking a three-year extension with the Warriors last June, Hingano has been released just a week out from the start of the 2018 Telstra Premiership as Stuart confirmed the Raiders have been in talks with the promising youngster’s management.
“I don’t know where we are exactly 100 per cent when it comes to contracts, but we have been discussing Ata and it would be wonderful for him to join our squad,” Stuart said on Wednesday.
“But I can’t confirm or deny that at the moment, I don’t know where it’s at.”
Canberra’s halves options have already been boosted by the return of Sam Williams from Super League this season, while their regular scrumbase pairing of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer are both off-contract at the end of 2018.
NRL.com understands that extension talks with both playmakers have been ongoing, but the Raiders are in no rush to lock their roster down before getting a gauge on early season performances after a disappointing 2017 campaign.
With first-choice hooker Josh Hodgson sidelined by an ACL rupture until the middle of the year Ricky Stuart is weighing up a possible dummy-half shift for Sezer, while fringe first grade rakes Siliva Havili and Craig Garvey were signed late last year following Hodgson’s injury.
Hingano has the ability to play both in the halves and at hooker, and Stuart stressed that the former Junior Kiwis rep is being sized up by the Raiders on that utility basis.
“We need numbers and that’s purely the plan,” Stuart said of replacing English international Hodgson.
“We’ve got three halves and two hookers and I’m really happy with how Siliva and Garvey have been handling and committing to the off-season.
“They’ve done a really good job of fitting into a structure of play and our halves are wonderful with how they keep buying into playing some dummy-half as well.
“It’s a team-first attitude there are handling and promoting as its very hard for a half to fill in for a hooking role.
“I see my halves doing that and doing it for the team and it’s a wonderful they are putting themselves second and the team first.”
Earlier on Wednesday Warriors chief executive Cameron George confirmed the club’s recent signing of Blake Green had raised Hingano’s concerns about his path to first grade.
“Ata obviously had a view with the Blake Green signing that it might have impeded in his pathway forward,” George told New Zealand’s Radio Sports Breakfast.
“We certainly didn’t believe that. We thought it would benefit Ata’s long-term future.
“But at the end of the day we just want Ata to be happy. He sought that release and it’s been granted. We wish him all the best. He’s been a wonderful contributor to the club.”
Hingano has previously been a man in demand given his status as one of New Zealand’s best young playmaking prospects, with Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys making enquiries about the Pakuranga product last season.
He was a key member of Tonga’s remarkable run to the World Cup semi-finals as their halfback in every match, and leaves the Warriors with 15 NRL games under his belt.