St George Illawarra coach Shane Flanagan has in-demand Cowboys half Tom Dearden in his recruitment sights, saying the off-contract 22-year-old shapes as the ideal long-term successor to Ben Hunt at the Dragons.
One of few quality halves on the market for 2025, Dearden had been tipped to re-sign with North Queensland at the back end of last season, but has since indicated his desire to hit the open market.
The Cowboys remain confident of retaining his services, but the Dragons will be one of few rivals with big money to spend for 2025. He'll be one of several suitors, but Flanagan said Dearden would tick multiple boxes as a marquee recruit.
"He's definitely one we're looking at," Flanagan said.
"Ben's got to 2025 and it'd be a great transition to have someone like [Dearden]. Ben gave him an unbelievable reference, Dean (assistant coach Dean Young) has coached him and I watched him play in Origin.
"He's the type of player in a really important position that we'd look at, and there's a few others. Hopefully over the next six months that jigsaw puzzle just starts to fall into place."
"I plan on having him here for the term of his contract," Flanagan said.
"That's where we need to have a long-term plan and someone like Tom would be the long-term plan. Benny's been really positive, he understands that he's got a contract here and he's willing to work hard.
"He's going to come back to training and see new facilities, new players, a new way of training, new staff. It'll be really fresh for Benny and it'll freshen him up."
Flanagan's also expressed interest in Roosters star Joey Manu and wantaway Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake, the Warriors having denied the latter's request for an immediate release on compassionate grounds.
While he's made no secret of his desire to attract quality players, Flanagan said he won't be recklessly splashing cash just because the club has it to spend.
"We've got to have a little bit of luck in recruitment, you've got a jag one or two big ones," Flanagan said.
"It's OK to have the money, but you've got to be able to get the right players to your club. Since I got the job mid-year, I've been really conscious of not just jumping in to get some signings.
"I want to make sure that I sign players that I'm comfortable with because next year there's going to be a lot of new players here. We've definitely got our head around what we need and the type of player we need.
"We've started that process, but I'm not taking the focus away from what I need to do [immediately]. If you don't focus on the now and you keep focusing on the future, you'll end up finding you've got no future."
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