St George Illawarra have announced the signing of former New Zealand hooker Issac Luke on a one-year deal.
Luke, 32, will join the Dragons after playing 271 NRL matches for South Sydney and the Warriors, as well as 43 Tests for the Kiwis.
The highly regarded Luke will provide valuable dummy-half back-up for Cameron McInnes, who was St George Illawarra’s best player in a disappointing 2019 season.
The pair played together at the Rabbitohs in 2014 and 2015 before Luke returned home to join the Warriors and are keen to be reunited with the Wollongong-based Dragons.
Coincidentally, the apprentice will become the master in 2020 with Luke set to add valuable experience as he enters his 14th NRL season.
"Everyone is already aware of Issac's career in regard to his longevity. Issac has walked the path of the NRL over a long period of time now and will be great for our squad," Dragons director of pathways and list management Ian Millward said.
"To have a really established back-up player of his calibre is exciting. Our coaching staff were keen to have him on our roster with plans in mind regarding how they'd like to play him, which have already been discussed with Issac as well as Cameron.
"With Issac now on board, we have 25 players on our roster. 23 of them have played NRL and while that includes those who have just received their first taste of first grade like Jackson Ford and Jason Saab, we are pleased with Issac's injection of experience."
After four years with the Warriors, Luke confirmed his move to St George Illawarra by tweeting on Sunday that he was “on way” to the Dragons and will commence pre-season training with the club later this week.
After announcing Luke's signing on Tuesday, the Dragons tweeted: "We can confirm @issacluke_14 is 'on way'. We look forward to teaching him the club's full name when he arrives for pre-season training".
The move enables St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor to start with McInnes at hooker and switch him to the backrow, as he did when playing in tandem with Luke at the Rabbitohs.
At his peak, Luke was regarded as one of the best hookers in the game, possibly second only to Cameron Smith but the Dragons have snared him for little more than a minimum wage contract.
Luke had offers from Super League clubs but did not want to move to the northern hemisphere as he has a son in Brisbane.
The signing of 32-year-old Luke will enable McGregor to revisit the idea of starting McInnes at dummy half and moving him to the back row when defences are tiring.
The Dragons started last season with fullback Matt Dufty on the bench and reshuffled their spine when he came on, with Gareth Widdop moving to five-eighth, Corey Norman to halfback, Ben Hunt to hooker and McInnes to the back row.
The injection of Luke would simply require McInnes to shift to the back row, with Hunt and Norman remaining in the halves. Luke and McInnes would be on the field at the same time.
McInnes with a try saver of the year nomination
McInnes was Luke's understudy at the Rabbitohs in 2014 and 2015, and the pair played similar roles to those they are likely to perform at the Dragons next season.
Coincidentally, Mcinnes initially agreed to leave the Rabbitohs for St George Illawarra in 2016 but backed out of the deal after Luke sought a release to join the Warriors.
However, McInnes made the move in 2017 after sharing the South Sydney dummy half duties with Damien Cook and he has established himself as one of the best hookers in the game at St George Illawarra.
With Widdop sidelined for most of last season by a shoulder injury, McInnes took over the captaincy and he is expected to be given the honour of leading the Dragons in 2020.
The inspirational hooker was a resounding winner of the Dragons medal as the club's player of the year and also won the Red V Members' player of the year award and the Geoff Selby Memorial Trophy.