IT'S a once-in-a-generation curveball but St George Illawarra CEO Ryan Webb isn't expecting the Dolphins entry into the player market to prove too much of a shock.
The NRL's 17th team, and Brisbane's second franchise, will have Wayne Bennett at the helm and a salary-cap clean slate to put together a roster for the 2023 season.
It will be free to negotiate with players off-contract in 2022 - a category the likes of Jayden Sullivan and Mat and Max Feagai fall into - from November 1.
Webb said it's a unique scenario for all clubs, but not an unanticipated one.
"It's obviously a situation that happens rarely so it's definitely something you have to be mindful of," Webb said.
"In saying that, it's been a likely outcome for a while now so we as a club have been conscious of being on top of our 2022 and 2023 list for a while now.
"We've got at least half of our '23 list already locked down, so we've been conscious that this is coming and acting accordingly."
The Dragons have undergone a dramatic roster overhaul over the last 12 months, with the club farewelling almost half of its 2021 top 30 by season's end.
Cam McInnes, Matt Dufty, Corey Norman and Paul Vaughan (sacked) were the high profile departures, while Jaydn Su'A, Francis Molo, George Burgess and Moses Suli head the list of 2022 arrivals.
The club also brought Jack Bird, Andrew McCullough and Josh McGuire to Wollongong this year on deals heavily subsidised by their previous clubs.
It took a similar approach to Maroons utility Moses Mbye, with the Tigers willing to pay half the freight on his move to the Dragons next season.
The club's also been linked to former Test prop Aaron Woods, Sea Eagles back-rower Jack Gosiewski and injury-plagued centre Tatau Moga as bargain-buys.
The approach has been dubbed 'moneyball' externally by both critics and supporters, but Webb's confident it is in the club's short and long-term list management interests.
"It's an interesting term to have floating around but it's really just about investment in our list and, like anything in life, you want to see the best return on every investment you make," Webb said.
"A bargain's only a bargain if it performs, or it gives you what you want. Something's only expensive if it doesn't deliver.
"We're conscious of building a deep list. Almost everyone on our list will have played a bit of NRL in some way, shape or form.
"We think is pretty important based on the pace of the game and the number of players teams have had to use in the last 12 months."
The approach is more broadly geared towards ensuring the likes of Sullivan, the Feagais, Talatau Amone and Tyrell Sloan have long-term homes in Wollongong.
"We have a group of young kids coming through showing glimpses of what they can do and we're clearing paths in front of them accordingly," Webb said.
"Our recruitment's really been done to amplify the strengths we already have and also plugging a few holes we can see we have now or will have in future.
"It's a balance between clearing that path so they can see opportunity, but not putting too much expectation on young players too early. That's the balance we're trying to run."