ST GEORGE Illawarra have removed one puzzle piece from a crowded recruitment market by locking down skipper Gareth Widdop for four more seasons.
Under pressure coming into an off-contract season after a lacklustre 2016 campaign, Widdop has been the standout half in the NRL over the opening seven rounds, leading the competition with 73 points.
The Dragons had to fend off interest from Wests Tigers and Widdop’s former club Melbourne to secure their skipper’s services, but ultimately landed his signature by upping their initial offer and adding a fourth season to the deal.
Widdop said he was pleased to be remaining in Wollongong where he’s settled with his young family.
"At this stage of my career it certainly was a big decision for my family,” Widdop said.
“I have three young kids, I'm very settled here in Wollongong and I'm enjoying my time here so while it was a big decision, I'm happy to be staying.
"The Dragons have grown more and more since I've arrived. There's a good environment here and it's a good place to be so I wanted to play my part in that.”
The deal will see Widdop partner Ben Hunt in the halves when the Broncos half arrives ahead of the 2018 season that will be the first of a six-year deal.
Widdop’s retention is a timely one for the club as speculation over his future, and that of fullback Josh Dugan, threatened to derail their impressive 6-1 start to the season.
The club will now turn their attention to re-signing Dugan though those negotiations have been complicated by dispute over his positional future.
Club recruitment chief Ian Millward has stated the club sees Dugan’s future in the centres, and is willing to pay him handsomely as a three-quarter, but the incumbent Test centre believes his club future should lie at fullback.
Coach Paul McGregor backed that desire ahead of Tuesday’s Anzac Day clash with the Roosters, saying Dugan will play in the No. 1 while ever he’s the best fullback at the club.
It’s the next headache for Millward but he said locking down Widdop is a huge boost for the club.
"We have shown a lot of confidence in Gareth as our long-term leader by offering him a four-year contract," Millward said.
"We were very conscious of creating stability and consistency in our team and we feel we have achieved that with the re-signing of Gareth.
"Gareth's our leader and obviously plays in a vital position so we're over the moon that he has re-signed."