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Dragons agree to terms with Jack de Belin for 2021

St George Illawarra and Jack de Belin have announced an in-principle agreement for the star forward to re-sign beyond 2020 pending the outcome of his upcoming criminal case.

De Belin's current contract expires just days before he is due back in Wollongong District Court, but the Dragons have confirmed in principle agreement for him to remain at the club next season should he be permitted to resume playing again in 2021.

The NSW Origin lock has been unavailable to play under the NRL's no fault stand down rule for the past 18 months but still fielded significant interest from the Warriors recently.

The Dragons released a statement on Wednesday night confirming the agreement, with the "terms of de Belin's contract will remain confidential while the matter remains before the court."

The club also refuted a report that Ben Hunt could be moved on before his long-term deal expires as "completely inaccurate".

Meanwhile, CEO Ryan Webb has vowed to establish St George Illawarra's identity once and for all with a decision on Paul McGregor's successor expected to come in the next few days.

Thursday's scheduled interviews with Dean Young, Anthony Griffin and David Furner, and the appointment of a head coach largely dictates how the Dragons rebuild, with Webb describing the looming call as "the most important decision the club has made in recent times" in a recent members update.

An emphasis on discipline, defence, developing young talent and hailing from a successful culture have been outlined as key qualities needed from the club's next coach.

Dean Young was promoted to coach the Dragons for the final six rounds of 2020.
Dean Young was promoted to coach the Dragons for the final six rounds of 2020. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

A final decision is expected imminently to ensure the Dragons can offer prospective recruits an answer on the identity of their 2021 coach as soon as possible.

After a tumultuous first four months as CEO, Webb has also made revitalising the Dragons' identity a key strategic goal.

The joint-venture club has been roundly criticised in recent times for its handling of McGregor's final seasons, with a split along traditional St George and Illawarra factional lines emerging amid a two-year slide down the ladder.

Webb came to the high-pressure role with no ties to either side of the joint-venture, but has 15 years of experience across commercial and marketing roles in the AFL and NRL.  

With St George's 100-year anniversary on the horizon in 2021, and Illawarra's own 40-year landmark coming the following season, Webb has flagged greater acknowledgement of history from both clubs.

"Our priority is to understand who we are and what we want to be now," Webb told NRL.com.

"I don't think it's as clear as what it has been in the past. We need to define our identity really clearly. We need to embrace both foundation clubs.

Knights assistant coach David Furner.
Knights assistant coach David Furner. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"It feels like we sometimes hold back on embracing the past because we don't want to upset people on either side. By doing that we end up not pleasing anyone because we don't do anything.

"It's in our blood. We wear that Red V and we sing the same song, and we've got all these players coming out of the Illawarra. It's in our blood. That history is us so it should be everywhere.

"It needs focus and attention. And yes, it will need somewhat awkward conversations, things spoken out loud."

Wayne Bennett's premiership-winning, three-year stint a decade ago is the one and only time a coach without significant links to either the Steelers or Saints has taken the St George Illawarra post.

However Young, who significantly boasts Bennett's endorsement, offers a bridge of sorts between the two foundation clubs as the son of Dragons great Craig Young, a Steelers junior and 2010 title winner with the merged entity.

Griffin and Furner meanwhile offer obvious alternatives to critics who argue a coach without any association is what the club needs.

Anthony Griffin has had coaching stints at Brisbane and Penrith.
Anthony Griffin has had coaching stints at Brisbane and Penrith. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

A call on assistant coach Shane Flanagan's future can only be made once a head coach is installed, but Webb is hopeful a 12-month extension can be negotiated beyond November.

Phil Gould's oft-cited review of the Dragons' set-up last year came with the concerning caveat that the club could not afford to implement several of his recommendations.

Webb took issue with the "misconception that this club doesn't have money," and insisted the backing of St George Leagues Club and WIN Corporation meant their incoming coach could count on the "right resources" being provided to the football department.

Their soon to be completed strategic plan won't call out a specific on-field goal but wants to generate a distinct defence-based game fans can have faith in at the very least.

"[Interim coach] Dean Young spoke to this, that fans and members will at least know what they're going to get when they run out on the field," Webb said.

"That's the easiest measure of success I think. And we don't have that right now.

"We need to get there and we do that with the right appointment of coach, the right support structures through the organisation and making sure they've got the resources right to do their job.

"We need to give the football department every chance to win games."