DRAGONS captain Gareth Widdop will remain with the club for the 2019 season, but looks at very long odds to see out the final two years of his current deal.
Fairfax Media sent the NRL transfer market into the meltdown on Wednesday when it reported Widdop had sought an immediate release to pursue a long-held dream of playing in the English Super League.
It comes just one season into the four-year contract extension he signed with the club in 2017, a year after being made skipper of the famous club.
The deal was meant to lock-down a long-term scrum-base partnership with Ben Hunt – who is currently one year into a six-season deal – but plans appear to have gone up in smoke.
Addressing the reports on Wednesday, the 29-year-old made no secret of his desire to one day play in the Super League, but refuted suggestions he wants out immediately.
“I just want to put it to bed, I have not asked for a release for 2019, it’s all just speculation,” Widdop told the Dragons website.
“I think it’s no secret that I do have aspirations of going over to the UK and playing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“I’ve got a good relationship with the club and, we’ll work together both parties, and when the time’s right to head over I will.
“I want to say to all the members, fans and the little kids out there, I understand my importance to this team and my position being the captain and leader of this club.
“I will be here in 2019 and can't wait for the season to start.”
The comments made no mention of 2020 or 2021, with his exit at the end of next season appearing inevitable.
Dragons recruitment chief Ian Millward admitted the club has been in discussions about Widdop’s long-term future that were hastened by Wednesday’s media revelations.
"The club has been in discussions with Gareth for a number of weeks concerning his future at the Dragons,” Millward said.
"We understand his circumstances and he understands ours, and this is something we plan on working through together."
The bombshell revelations came on the same day Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson was granted a release, effective immediately, after being told he wasn’t part of the club’s plans beyond 2019.
It fueled suggestions he could link with the Dragons but the Kiwi International looks poised to sign with Cronulla as a replacement for NFL hopeful Valentine Holmes.
Should Widdop leave at the conclusion of next season, it would leave the Dragons with a considerable war chest with which to find a replacement.
The Widdop saga latest chapter in the wider circus involving players and coaches, coming a day after Newcastle confirmed the long-mooted signing of NSW prop David Klemmer.
It came after former club Canterbury secured the services of former Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa, while Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and Souths mentor Anthony Seibold remain subject to rumours a swap is imminent though both clubs have issued denials.