St George Illawarra are set for another year of rebuilding, with recruitment chief Ian Millward admitting their roster is just about set for next NRL season.
Millward on Friday took the unprecedented step of explaining why the club failed in its attempts to lure the likes of Cooper Cronk, Corey Norman, Luke Keary and Lachlan Coote to the club.
And while the Dragons remain on the lookout for a new halfback, they are unlikely to replace the departing Benji Marshall, Mitch Rein, Mike Cooper and Ben Creagh.
With only a handful of players contracted in 2018, including Tariq Sims, Leeson Ah Mau, Tyson Frizell, Joel Thompson and new buy Nene Macdonald, Millward admits they might wait another year to splash their cash.
“In our recruitment for 2017, we start with a squad that’s fairly entrenched at this point in time,” Millward told the club website.
“But 2018, we’ve got a lot of players off contract. This gives us an opportunity to view what players are performing well and bring something to our organisation that we want to extend for 2018 onwards.”
Millward said he wasn’t too bothered by Cronk, Norman and Coote all shunning the Red V to take up long-term deals and remain with their respective clubs.
“Which I thought was really refreshing because we didn’t lose our ability to go out and try and entice them here and another rival club signed them,” he said.
“And then you’re looking at your process, saying ‘what did they do that we didn’t do?’. They stayed at their club – they showed loyalty.”
Their chase of Keary was different, with the future Sydney Roosters’ pivot wanting to remain close to his family and girlfriend in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
“He wanted to stay with his family and his partner living in that area and, moving to Wollongong, where we do all our training at, wasn’t an appealing factor for him, so we missed out on that,” he said.
The Dragons’ recruitment has been a hot topic for most of the season, centred on playmaker Marshall, who leads a troupe of players to farewell the club in Saturday’s last regular-season game against Newcastle.
The match also marks the final game for Knights forward and Dragons 2010 premiership-winning team member Jeremy Smith, who will do a lap of honour with former teammate Creagh.
While the game will have no bearing in the top eight, interest surrounds the captain’s challenge trial, with both sides getting one challenge per half for try-scoring decisions only.
The finale will put the Knights out of their season-long misery, having broken a host of unwanted records, including their 17-game losing streak being the longest in the NRL era.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Dragons’ 53 tries and 313 points are the fewest they’ve scored in a season. Their nine wins is the second-equal lowest
* Newcastle are just one of three other teams to have lost 17 straight matches in a season, joining Newtown (20 in 1977), the (then) Eastern Suburbs (all 18 games in 1966) and the (then) Western Suburbs (18 in 1984)
* Gold Coast in 1993 were the last to register just one win in a season, that coming against Newcastle in round six – by coincidence the same round in which the Knights defeated Wests Tigers this season for their only win