Gold Coast builds on player list


THE Gold Coast's incoming NRL team is taking shape.

Melbourne's back-up hooker Nathan Friend yesterday became the seventh - and probable final signing of the year - when he linked up with the new franchise on a two-year deal from 2007.

The announcement came barely 24 hours after Parramatta utility player and former Tweed Heads Seagull Luke O'Dwyer signed.

Neither Friend nor O'Dwyer are marquee names, but the club's managing director Michael Searle said they would play key roles.

"Nathan was referred to us by Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy," Searle said. "He told us he's an exceptional player who would be the starting hooker at 10 of the NRL's other clubs."

The Toowoomba-raised Friend, 24, had become frustrated with his limited chances behind Queensland Origin hooker Cameron Smith at the Storm.

Searle said it was "highly unlikely" there would be any more signings this year.

"We have always said we wanted between seven and 10 players this year, we've got seven," he said.

Among the positions still to be filled are the key halfback and fullback roles, a centres pairing, lock and another front rower to partner NSW State of Origin star Luke Bailey.

Searle said there was plenty of quality coming on the market next year.

"In the centres you've got Matt Cooper, Mark Gasnier, Josh Hannay, Willie Tonga and Ryan Cross all coming off contract," he said.

"And in the fullbacks there will be Wade McKinnon, Luke Burt, Rhys Wesser and Karmichael Hunt.

"With the likes of Preston Campbell and Luke Bailey (already signed) it suggests we will be a very competitive side ... (and) these guys will attract more players."

Searle said the club had identified the players it wanted to bring in.

"We started out with 100 names on that list, we have eliminated 28 so now we're down to 72,"he said.

The NRL salary cap means the club must fit its 25-player elite squad within the $3.35million allow-ance. A second salary cap of $300,000 also exists for fringe players called into the top squad.

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