Frustrated St George Illawarra are considering holding on to their cash in a bold plan to lure Australian superstar Johnathan Thurston and premier coach Craig Bellamy to the club.
The 2011 UK Super League man of steel Rangi Chase - who played 31 games for the Dragons in 2007-08 - yesterday became the latest of a string of signatures the 2010 premiers have missed out on, when he committed to Castleford.
It has left coach Steve Price planning his preseason – training starts on Monday week – with former Broncos flyer Gerard Beale as the only high-profile signing.
Price is trying to rebuild the team after Ben Hornby and Dean Young’s retirement, but St George Illawarra have unsuccessfully made offers to State of Origin players Cooper Cronk and Michael Jennings.
Coming off contract next year, Thurston has also been linked to the Panthers and Broncos, but has emerged as the Dragons’ prime target.
Thurston’s manager, Sam Ayoub, who also looks after Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward, said he did not expect new contracts for either player to drag on into the middle of next season.
But Ayoub said both players would wait until the terms of the NRL salary cap were finalised following the new television rights agreement before locking themselves into any new deal.
‘‘I don’t think they’ll get to the middle of next season, but I can’t give you a time frame,’’ Ayoub said.
‘‘I’m being very honest and genuine about this, the fact is they won’t consider their future while there are still questions about the salary cap, player payment allowances and other considerations.’’
The Mercury understands at least one NRL club has already made a formal approach about signing Thurston.
Bellamy is also on the radar of several clubs, but the Dragons are poised to make an approach even if Price makes a successful start to next year’s campaign.
The Dragons chased Cronk as the centrepiece of their plans this year, but dropped out of the running when they refused to meet his asking price of about $800,000.
Doust yesterday declined to discuss their recruitment priorities.
"Players are regularly linked to the Dragons and speculated upon," he said. "I don't believe it appropriate to be making public comment about negotiations that may or may not be taking place."
Doust said some of the money freed up by the departure of Hornby, Young, Beau Scott and Mark Gasnier has been used to upgrade the contracts of senior players Brett Morris, Trent Merrin and Dan Hunt, as well as young talent Cameron King, Jack Stockwell and Nathan Green.
While Thurston says he is happy in Townsville, he has admitted being open minded about offers.
Thurston won a premiership with the Bulldogs in 2004, but has since played 168 games for North Queensland without a title and at 29, a call on his future looms as the biggest in his career.
Jacob Miller, Daniel Mortimer and Sam Williams are other players who have been linked to the club, while the Dragons were left reeling last year when Tim Moltzen backed out of a deal to join them.
Mortimer remains a player of interest - with the Roosters viewing NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce as their long-term option - but he is contracted for next season.
Nathan Fien is the front-runner to make the more permanent shift to halfback. Beale is expected to have first shot at playing fullback, while Doust also indicated that Tyson Frizell will be given an opportunity to play in the back row.