Wests Tigers allow Stefano Utoikamanu to test market

Jasper Bruce |

Rampaging Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu (l) has been given permission to talk to rival clubs.
Rampaging Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu (l) has been given permission to talk to rival clubs.

Stefano Utoikamanu’s days at Wests Tigers appear numbered after the joint venture gave their star prop permission to negotiate with NRL rivals.

Utoikamanu has a Tigers contract for next season but it will only be activated if he plays two State of Origin matches by the end of the year or the club makes the finals.

With the prop overlooked for a NSW cap in Origin II, the get-out clause is set to be triggered in September when the 16th-placed side is more than likely to miss out on a finals berth.

But the Tigers have sped the process up, confirming Utoikamanu was free to test the market after meeting with the 24-year-old.

The club is privately hopeful their star prop may not yet be lost to Concord, though.

“We’ve sat down with Stefano, his partner Chiara, and his management, and we all want what’s best for him and his family,” said Tigers chief executive Shane Richardson.

“Stefano has given us no indication that he wants to leave, but he does want to have a look around, and we are totally comfortable with that.”

Rated one of the best young middle forwards in the NRL, Utoikamanu has previously been linked with Penrith and Melbourne, both elite sides that could do with some grunt in the middle of the park.

Penrith’s forward pack has been world-class throughout three premiership seasons but will lose James Fisher-Harris to the Warriors at the end of 2024.

Melbourne’s pack, meanwhile, has been in a rebuilding phase following multiple exits since their 2020 premiership season.

Utoikamanu has played some of his best football under first-year Tigers coach Benji Marshall and was superb in the 18-10 defeat of Gold Coast in round 15.

But the prop admitted last week he was unsure whether he wanted to remain at the club long-term given recent form.

“I love the Tigers, but it’s hard when we are struggling,” said Utoikamanu, who has played 65 games since joining from Parramatta in 2021.

“I came here for an opportunity and they gave me that, I’m grateful for that. But it’s been a tough couple of seasons and I just want to focus on winning.

“I don’t know (what I want to do). We’re in discussions now and anything can happen really.”

The contract development comes following back-to-back wins for the Tigers, and news funding had been secured for upgrades to their spiritual home Leichhardt Oval.

An upset win over the Sydney Roosters this Sunday will confirm a first three-match winning streak for the Tigers since 2018.