The Dragons are set to officially join the recruitment race for NSW star Dale Finucane as Anthony Griffin insists the fallout from Paul Vaughan's ill-fated party won't derail his first season at the club.
Vaughan's sacking has freed up the best part of $800,000 in St George Illawarra's salary cap for next season, with the club already bolstering their forward stocks through Rabbitohs back-rower Jaydn Su'A and one-time teammate George Burgess.
NRL.com understands the Dragons will also join up to five clubs in the race for Finucane's services with a formal two- or three-year offer to be tabled.
The Storm are reluctant to lose their co-captain but both club and player are well aware of salary cap forces at hand, while the Cowboys are also understood to have a three-year offer of their own for the 29-year-old middle forward.
Newcastle and the Gold Coast are also in the hunt for the Blues bookend, who put discussions on his future to the side while in NSW camp.
Sea Eagles v Dragons - Round 18
Griffin initially met with Finucane in April when the Storm star began exploring the market before the Dragons shelved their interest, only for Vaughan's exit to reshape their roster and need for a top-class middle forward.
Finucane will look to make a call on his future in the next week as Melbourne's sudden COVID-19 forced relocation means he returns to Queensland just hours after departing the Gold Coast following Wednesday's Origin finale.
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Meanwhile, Griffin revealed uncertainty over whether Ben Hunt backs up from his game-winning two-try performance was behind the decision to sit Matt Dufty out of Friday night’s match against Manly.
Dufty, second-rower Tyrell Fuimaono and prop Kaide Ellis were chosen as the first of the 12 St George Illawarra players who breached NRL biosecurity protocols and the NSW Public Health Order to serve their one-match suspensions in the Sea Eagles clash.
Five-eighth Corey Norman, lock Jack de Belin, centres Jack Bird, Zac Lomax and Gerard Beale, second-rower Josh Kerr and props Josh McGuire, Blake Lawrie and Daniel Alvaro must each miss one of the Red V's following three matches.
Griffin said the Dragons were uncertain which matches each of the remaining nine players would sit out but he didn’t want Dufty and Norman to be absent in the same match.
With Hunt playing hooker for Queensland on Wednesday night, it would have been a risk to go into the Manly clash without Norman as an injury to Hunt would have left Griffin without both of his first-choice playmakers.
"Norman has got to have a rest at some stage, but we don’t want to rest both of those guys at once," Griffin said of the decision to pick rookie Tyrell Sloan at fullback in place of Dufty.
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"This week we have got a chance to give Sloan a go and rest one of our spine.
"We just started with this game and picked a team that we are confident will still give us a chance of winning the game, but also with guys like Sloan, in the bigger picture, get another opportunity to play in the NRL.
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"We are just trying to balance it out in the best way possible. Depending on what happens tomorrow night we will look forward to the Titans, re-assess and go again."
The Dragons need to nominate a minimum of two and maximum of six players to serve their suspension in each match, but Griffin said the club had enough depth to handle their absence as they pushed for a place in the finals.
"The next three or four weeks we have got some challenges without being able to put our best side out every week but we are confident in the depth and quality of the people we have in the club and we will be able to maintain our spot there over the next month," Griffin said.
Hunt steps off the left to score his second
"If we do three or four every week that will see us through the month, so that is the way we are looking at it at this stage.
"We obviously sat down as a coaching group and as a club to pool our ideas and wrote teams out.
"We have taken everyone’s opinion but the other thing you have got to take into account is if we get one or two injuries tomorrow night things can change again depending on the position."
Griffin said Hunt and NSW second-rower Tariq Sims had survived Origin III without any serious injuries, but he would wait until Friday to make a final decision on their fitness to play the Sea Eagles.
After arriving at the NRL’s Brisbane hub on Wednesday night, the St George Illawarra players – minus Hunt and Sims - trained at Gilbert Park on Thursday.
Lomax and Alvaro are expected to arrive in Queensland after completing 14 days isolation on Saturday following the Dragons’ COVID-19 breach and will then need to isolate for a further two weeks, during which time they will serve their one-match bans.
The pair were unable to travel with the team as they have not signed a statement for the NRL about the July 3 barbecue at the home of Vaughan after receiving legal advice.