Controversial hooker James Segeyaro has been cleared to start training with NRL champions Cronulla as his contractual dispute with Leeds Rhinos nears a resolution.
The Rhinos are demanding a £250,000 transfer fee after the 26-year-old former Papua New Guinea international failed to report for pre-season training despite having two years left on his contract.
Leeds were content to see Segeyaro frozen out of the game until 2019 if they were unable to agree a financial settlement, with chief executive Gary Hetherington believing a point of principle was at stake and that a worrying precedent could be set if the player was allowed to walk away from his contract.
However, it is understood that a fee has now been agreed between the two clubs following mediation between the governing bodies of both countries and the Australian players’ association, and Cronulla head coach Shane Flanagan says Segeyaro will link up with them after the weekend.
“They’ve given him approval to train with the squad pending a formal release from Leeds,” Flanagan said.
“It’s good for James. He’s been on his own for four months trying to do the best he can so at least now he can train with some other players, whether it’s our reserve-grade squad or whatever.”
Cronulla, who were beaten by Wigan in the World Club Challenge in February, need to find a replacement for experienced hooker Michael Ennis, who retired after the Sharks’ Grand-Final win over Melbourne in October, but Segeyaro is likely to make his comeback through the club’s NSW Cup team.
“I haven’t seen how his conditioning is,” Flanagan said.
“He looks healthy and strong but it’s a little bit different to being healthy and strong enough to play in the NRL.
“He’ll start back next week and we’ll see where he’s at.”
Leeds employed lawyers in Australia to fight their case after Segeyaro’s manager indicated that his player argued that he was a free agent.
Flanagan appeared to concede that the law was on Leeds’ side, adding: “A contract’s a contract. We need to respect that.
“James has gone through the right process. There was a dispute between James and Leeds and it’s taken a long time but it’s finally starting to get sorted out.”
Segeyaro initially joined Leeds on loan from Penrith last July and made a big impact, helping them to nine wins from their last 10 matches of the 2016 season to secure their Super League status.
In September, the player removed a get-out clause in a contract that runs to the end of 2018 but while on a visit to Australia told the club he would not be returning for the start of pre-season training in January.
The Rhinos paid a transfer fee to Manly Sea Eagles to secure Matt Parcell as a straight replacement and he has played in all five matches so far this year.