St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust risks undermining the club's entire 2013 campaign if precocious attempts to lure Craig Bellamy to Wollongong fall flat, former players warn.
The Dragons' $6 million bid for the Melbourne coach has been labelled "risky" by Brad Mackay, amid already failed attempts to land big-name players Cooper Cronk and Michael Jennings.
Meanwhile, Luke Priddis urged the current coach Steve Price and players not to allow the Bellamy pursuit to distract them from the upcoming season.
In addition to Bellamy, the NRL market will be bursting at the seams with quality players by season's end, with Johnathan Thurston, Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce among those off contract.
"They need to be aggressive across the whole market," Mackay said. "If the club does miss out on Bellamy, they need to rally that money for some real big-name players and give Steve Price something to really play with.
"No-one wins a competition without two world-class halves - except in very rare circumstances - so maybe their theory is that if they get Bellamy they'll attract players, but that's no guarantee.
"Looking back, Mark Gasnier is probably the last marquee signing that the Dragons spent a lot of money on and really pursued."
Priddis said players were accustomed to the business-like cycle of the NRL but he also acknowledged that off-field distractions were sometimes hard to ignore.
"Pricey's the coach there at the moment and he'd be pretty much focused on what's happening for the season, I don't think that could be used as an excuse," he said.
"Most players and most coaches and clubs realise that it's a business, that everyone's got to be forward planning.
‘‘It’s probably a little bit disappointing for Pricey, knowing he’s still got a year to run on his contract, but obviously it’s not going to hurt his resume if he puts in a good season at the Dragons.’’
With Bellamy off contract at the end of the year and likely to make a decision on his future before the World Club Challenge in February, Price may not have the chance to prove his worth for a new contract this year.
Price produced mixed success at the Dragons in his rookie year as head coach, missing out on the top eight by two points but finishing the year with the unwanted tag as orchestrator of the NRL’s worst attacking side.
Mackay said Price deserved to be afforded at least the start of the 2013 season to show his wares before the club rushed off to secure Bellamy’s services.
‘‘Steve Price has still got a lot to offer the NRL if he starts the season well,’’ Mackay said.
‘‘His future is in his hands but it is pretty hard to compete against teams that have got world-class players, when Steve is trying to throw together some good, young players and put them in really responsible positions.’’
In reality, sentiment over Price’s position is likely to pale against the needs of Bellamy, who said this week that his ‘‘decision needs to be made in January or certainly before we go to England for the World Club Challenge’’.
It’s understood that Doust has held serious discussions with Bellamy over a five-year deal from 2014, worth as much as $1.2million a season.
Price is on contract until the end of 2013, having served as an understudy to former coach Wayne Bennett for three years.
If Bellamy does agree to the Dragons offer, and the club doesn’t improve in 2013, then Price will be have some weighty opponents to contend with beyond this year. Tim Sheens, Brian Smith, Steve Kearney, Brian McLennan, Matt Parish, Tony Iro and Graham Murray are among the available top-tier coaches currently without an NRL role.