The Dragons have asked the NRL for urgent clarity on potential salary cap dispensation for Jack de Belin before going to market in search of a possible replacement.
De Belin's suspension has left St George Illawarra officials frustrated and scrambling to replace a NSW Origin forward and deliberating over their next move just two weeks out from the 2019 season opener.
The salary cap dramas of rivals Cronulla and Melbourne will bring potential signings Sam Kasiano and off-contract Sharks forwards into play, but as it stands the Dragons have had little indication of what form a salary cap exemption could take.
In announcing the ARL Commission's new 'no-fault stand down policy' for players facing serious criminal charges, Todd Greenberg and Peter Beattie both stated that clubs could apply for salary cap relief if affected by off-field incidents.
For the Dragons though the fact the policy is still being determined by head office leaves them racing the clock if they’re to chase a replacement.
St George Illawarra are yet to indicate whether they will apply for the compensation, but it is believed they could have as much as $400,000 to spend – about two-thirds of de Belin's 2019 salary less the four months he has already been paid.
The Sharks are facing their own D-Day at League Central on Friday, when a verdict on the NRL's salary cap investigation will be delivered.
St George Illawarra are one of several clubs ready to move if Cronulla are forced to shed players to become cap compliant.
While stars Shaun Johnson and Josh Dugan have been assured they will not be forced out, club insiders are preparing multiple roster scenarios pending the NRL's punishment.
NRL.com understands that off-contract Sharks prop Ava Seumanufagai is one player that has been discussed as a potential target by the Dragons prior to de Belin's indefinite ban.
Complicating any move is a six-week knee injury Seumanufagai suffered in last week's trial against Manly, while the 27-year-old prop is also weighing up an offer from an English Super League outfit.
Also off contract on the Cronulla roster are back-rowers Kurt Capewell and Scott Sorensen, with the Dragons potentially able to shift Tyson Frizell or Korbin Sims into de Belin's No.13 role to accommodate either player on an edge.
Storm prop Sam Kasiano has been told he's free to leave the club if he gets a deal elsewhere as Melbourne look to alleviate their own cap issues.
It is understood the Dragons discussed a potential move for Kasiano with his representatives last month.
On his day Kasiano is one of the most dynamic front-rowers in the game but the former Bulldogs big man struggled to recapture his best form during an injury-plagued first season at Melbourne.
While Canterbury paid a healthy amount of Kasiano's 2018 salary, it's understood Melbourne would have to do the same to move him on, with several clubs baulking at his price tag over summer.
Given they already boast one of the strongest packs in the game, Paul McGregor may look internally to cover de Belin's absence and spend any dispensation elsewhere in his roster.
Exactly how any salary cap relief is broken down remains unclear with the NRL to approve applications on "a case by case basis".
Beattie suggested that one element of the NRL's consideration would be the club's actions upon any player being stood down on behavioural grounds, with the game still reeling from a summer plagued by off-field scandal.
"There won't be an automatic relief from the salary cap of the club involved," Beattie said.
"But the club may apply to the salary cap auditor for relief which will be applied on a case by case basis.
"One of the issues that may be considered as part of that is what the club has done in terms of cultural change.
"To make certain that it is maintaining community standards".
Greenberg also indicated that a club's finances could preclude an application for salary cap relief, with any player stood down to be paid by an NRL outfit as per usual while a legal resolution plays out.
"There's a number of things we'll have to consider," Greenberg said.
"We can't just simply say yes to salary cap relief because quite frankly some clubs can't afford it. So there will be some clubs that if this happens again, they probably won't apply for it.
"We need to consider a number of factors about how we would apply salary cap relief.
"The short answer though is we'll be looking favourably for those clubs for those clubs who are looking for it".
Manly could find themselves in the same boat as the Dragons pending an NRL decision on Dylan Walker as he too answers assault charges against his partner.
Walker has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault, one occasioning actual bodily harm, but could become the first player stood down under the use of Greenberg's discretionary power, available to the CEO in situations where a maximum jail term is less than 11 years.