Loyalty Has its Rewards

League icon Stacey Jones, man of the moment Ali Lauiti'iti and the New Zealand Warriors are set to benefit from an NRL initiative for one-club players. A player who remains loyal to his franchise for 10 years will become salary cap exempt. This means his paypacket will not be part of the $A3.25 million cap, allowing clubs like the Warriors to spend their money on other talent.

The clubs will also be able to pay "loyal" players more money to ensure they retain them because this won't affect the salary cap.

Warriors chief executive Mick Watson said club CEOs and the NRL board had approved the proposal but an introduction date for the scheme was still to be finalised.

The 2004 season has been suggested. By then, Jones will be entering his 10th season as a Warrior first-grader and the halfback is certain to be the first franchise player to be eligible for the cap exemption.

He has recently signed a new, long-term deal.

Lauiti'iti should be one of the next players to reach exemption status. The 22-year-old made his first-grade debut in 1998 and the church and family oriented backrower is the type of player who could easily be a long-term Warrior signing.

He is off contract at the end of next season but his re-signing will occur this year as the club ensures it tucks away one of its great strengths.

Lauiti'iti and Watson have begun discussions on a new contract and Watson said the club would like to sign the player to a three- or four-year deal.

"But there is no rush," Watson said.

"Ali is playing good football at the moment and I am just leaving him alone."

Watson likes the 10-year loyalty scheme and he suggested it was the type of initiative which could stop Jones going to England near the end of his career.

"I like it because it rewards loyalty," he said.

"A one-club player is now an anomaly in sport.

"Loyalty needs to be promoted."

Looking around the current NRL clubs, Watson can't see many players qualifying for the exemption.

"It won't drive clubs bankrupt," he said.

However, one concern is that if a number of players received the exemption at a single club the franchise could be tempted to lift its player spend to a level which it couldn't really afford.

In other Warrior developments, the Warriors expect to re-sign boom prop Mark Tookey by Tuesday while Watson said a mixture of clubs were interested in signing fullback Ivan Cleary.

Cleary has been told he will not be offered a new contract by the club.

Watson said the West Tigers had made an offer for Cleary while the Northern Eagles were "looking at it."

He said there had also been an offer from English club Warrington and there have been talks with the London Broncos.

"He will get a club," he said."

Meanwhile, the Warriors' chances of signing off-contract Parramatta Eel David Vaealiki appear to diminishing.

The Kiwi centre, who copped a five-week suspension last week, is close to finalising a new deal with the Eels.

Vaealiki was a player who had been targeted by the Warriors but he appears keen to remain in Australia.

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