GARETH Widdop looks set to remain at St George Illawarra after the Dragons significantly bumped up their original offer and extended the duration of their skipper's deal by another year.
It comes as the Wests Tigers ruled out off-contract Dragons fullback Josh Dugan as a replacement for the departing James Tedesco, leaving Dugan's future in limbo given the internal squabble at St George Illawarra over his best position.
Widdop had informed Dragons officials his asking price was far greater than the original offer that was on the table, and also requested his contract be increased from a three-year deal to a four-year deal.
Given the irresistible form of the 28-year-old this season and the threat of the circling Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm, the Dragons came to the party and satisfied Widdop's requests this week to table a lucrative contract until the end of 2021.
The Tigers had identified Widdop as their No.1 target to replace the Parramatta-bound Mitchell Moses next year, however the club is now resigned to missing out on his signature given the Dragons' increased offer.
While Jarryd Hayne is also open to negotiations from rival clubs, Fairfax Media understands the Tigers are reluctant to move on both he and Dugan amid fears of cultural ramifications at the club.
The Tigers have all but given up hope of their ambitious desire to lure Shaun Johnson from across the ditch, now turning their attention to Canterbury No.6 Josh Reynolds as a potential halves partner for the lone survivor of the "big four", Luke Brooks.
Sydney Roosters utility Connor Watson has also been identified by the Tigers, who now have close to $4 million to spend on players for next season given the forthcoming departures of Moses, Tedesco and Aaron Woods.
Warriors prop Ben Matulino, who returns from injury this weekend, is expected to be one of them. Dragons prop Russell Packer also looks like reuniting with Cleary and Matulino given St George Illawarra's extra investment into Widdop.
Johnson also played with Matulino and Packer under Cleary at the Warriors, however he admits he is close to re-signing with New Zealand.
"I have obviously been in talks with the club for a while now and we're getting close," Johnson said.
"It is hopefully going to be sorted soon. I think walking away – a lot of people have said it is probably what I should do to take my game to a new level at a different club – but it doesn't make sense to myself. I wouldn't be satisfied with that I don't think. Hopefully we can agree on some good terms to stay here and I can achieve what not only myself, but this club and organisation wants to achieve.
"It is a challenge, but as footy players that's what you live for. You don't want to walk into a system where it is all set up for you and you can just be another name on the wall at a club that has already won a comp and achieved all there is to achieve in this game. It's always a challenge.
"We have our challenges here like every other team does. The thrill of knowing what this team can do to rugby league in New Zealand – I really want to be a part of. That's what I have said all along. I have said that to Jim [Doyle], I have said that to Mooks, I have said that to the coaching staff here. I am sure we will have it settled soon."