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4 days ago
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett believes the National Rugby League has to take responsibility if, as expected, Lote Tuqiri announces a switch of codes today.
Tuqiri was given until July 15 by the Australian Rugby Union to decide whether to take up a lucrative offer to play the 15-man game.
And his manager Anthony Picone said his client was poised to end weeks of speculation by announcing his long-awaited decision.
"Lote is comfortable with reaching a decision and it will be made tomorrow," Picone said on Sunday.
Bennett is already resigned to the Broncos' Test winger following the lead of former teammate Wendell Sailor and joining rugby union, with the ARU's offer.
And the Brisbane coach believes it is the NRL which has to take blame.
"I think he's close to going," Bennett told Bully Boy.
"In the last week there's been a few concessions done and a few things to help him stay but I think it's too late.
"We pleaded a month ago for help. The game will be poorer because of the inactivity of the league.
The Broncos had lobbied the NRL - which is set to introduce salary cap allowances of $115,293 next year for long-serving players and under 21 rugby union converts - to make their salary cap exemptions more flexible with a view towards retaining Tuqiri.
But they were unable to convince the board or fellow clubs and the issue was put on the backburner.
NRL chief executive David Gallop offered an olive branch, however, on Sunday when he indicated the league was still open to further discussion on the issue of exemptions.
Gallop said the mooted exemptions had already been discussed at board level, but if the Broncos approached the league this week they would again be raised.
The NRL has no scheduled board meeting this week, however, Gallop said a telephone hook-up could be arranged if necessary.
"We're certainly conscious of it because I think the fans would like to see us retain our star players," Gallop said.
But it seems Gallop's late show of support is likely to come too late to stop rugby union getting its hands on the Fijian-born flyer.
The ARU was pressing Tuqiri to make a decision on his future prior to Friday night's Test match against Great Britain.
However, they relented and gave the 22-year-old an extension.
Tuqiri - who scored in Australia's 64-10 over Great Britain on Friday night - has scheduled a meeting with Picone for the morning where it's expected he will make his decision.
There were suggestions in Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph today that Tuqiri was set to be saved from the clutches of rugby union with the help of money from Channel Nine.
However, Picone took the opportunity to deny those reports, as did the station on its Sunday rugby league show.