Tim Sheens has made the first major move in his second coming at Wests Tigers by pinching Parramatta backrower Isaiah Papali’i on a three-year deal.
The 23-year-old played 25 games for the Eels last year after being given the chance to resurrect his career in Sydney after being cut by the Warriors.
He was named Dally M backrower of the year, but has informed Parramatta he will leave for the Tigers at the end of the 2022 season.
“Isaiah is an exceptionally talented young forward who has shown himself to be a player with a fantastic attitude, work-ethic and drive,” Sheens said.
“We firmly believe that his best football is still ahead of him and we’re very excited to see him progress in next steps of his rugby league career with Wests Tigers.”
The signing is a coup for Sheens – the Tigers’ only premiership winning coach – as he returns from England to work as the club’s director of football.
The Eels said they offered Papali’i a “significant upgrade” on the last year of his current contract but to no avail.
The departure of Papali’i is compounded by the fact Parramatta lost fellow backrower Marata Niukore to the Warriors last week.
The club is yet to agree to terms with captain Clint Gutherson, star prop Junior Paulo and hooker Reed Mahoney, who recently met with the Bulldogs.
The acquisition of Papali’i also represents a vote of confidence in Tigers coach Michael Maguire, whose tenure at Concord has been mired by near-misses in the NRL transfer market.
Signing Papali’i also puts the Tigers in a strong negotiating position with Luciano Leilua with the club baulking at the Samoan international’s demands for a pay rise.
Meanwhile, Manly have confirmed the re-signing of utility Dylan Walker on a one-year deal.
“Dylan is a very experienced player. His re-signing was a high priority for us,” coach Des Hasler said.
“The ability to be able to play several positions in the game today is vital and Dylan plays an extremely important role within the team.”