AFTER sacking Benji Marshall and Mitch Rein the Dragons are looking down the barrel of some very lean years unless the transfer market flips their way, according to Ben Ikin.
The Dragons ended negotiations with both their halfback and their hooker in recent weeks, leaving both players in limbo despite the fact the joint venture club has no obvious Plan B.
If the 2017 season was to start tomorrow, untested 21-year-old Drew Hutchison would be lining up in their No.7 jersey and makeshift dummy half Jake Marketo would more than likely get the nod in the No.9 jersey.
It’s a frightening thought for St George Illawarra fans and at this late stage of the year, there’s no guarantee that things will get any better, with just about every quality halfback and hooker in the game under contract for next season.
We’ve seen in recent years how quickly things can move in the transfer market, so the Dragons aren’t without hope of pulling a rabbit out of the hat.
However, according to Ikin it should never have been allowed to get to this stage of desperation, leaving fans to contemplate buying for a membership next season while they pray for a Christmas miracle.
“I guess what they’re hoping for now is that the market does change, materially, before Christmas,” Ikin told the Fox Sports NRL Market Watch podcast this week.
“You talk about these players that are going to be off contract at the end of next season — those conversations are easily brought forward.
“Contracts are bought out. If a player wants to leave and one coach sees more value in a halfback than the halfback’s current coach, then who’s to say that they don’t just come in and agree to disagree and go our separate ways.
“That’s how quickly it can happen.
“I know we build these lists of halfbacks off contract or players in a particular position off contract next season but I’ve seen too often and I think Ash Taylor was one of them, Wayne Bennett released prior to his contract finishing at the Broncos to go and play at the Titans.
“We know how that worked out.”
The Titans could once again play a key part in knocking the player market dominoes for the 2017 season, with the Gold Coast club all of a sudden flush with talent in the halves.
Already there’s been speculation the Broncos will attempt to lure Taylor back to Red Hill to replace an out of form Ben Hunt but if the leading candidate for rookie of the year can’t be lured away from the Titans, there’s every chance either Tyrone Roberts or Kane Elgey will need to switch clubs to play regular first grade.
That could open the door for the Dragons to pounce but for now at least that seems a far off dream.
“They’re on the down and they’re financially constrained because the club’s in a bit of a financial hole,” Ikin said.
“They’ve got that debt that they’re carrying with the NRL.
“It’s not as though they’re going to be spending a stack of money on facilities — all that ancillary infrastructure that apparently whets the appetite these days of the modern player and his manager, so it could be a lean couple of years now.”
While the No.7 is arguably the Dragons’ biggest concern, they will also be keen to lock down a hooker as soon as possible, with speculation mounting that they are keen to bring in Rabbitohs rake Cameron McInnes.
McInnes is contracted to the Rabbitohs next season but Souths are understood to be leading the race for the signature of wantaway Wests Tigers star Robbie Farah, who has been frozen out of first grade.
If Farah leaves the Tigers as expected, that move is likely to set off another chain of events that it tipped to land McInnes at the Dragons and possibly Matt McIllwrick at the Tigers.
Still, plenty has to go right for St George Illawarra to be in a remotely decent position to improve on their 2016 campaign this year and Ikin said the fans had that well and truly figured out.
“I’ll tell you what gives you no confidence, that’s the sales program for membership and for corporate suites and boxes and sponsorship because Dragons fans have a really high rugby league IQ,” Ikin said.
“That’s why their expectations are so high. So they’d be able to see exactly what we’re seeing, that they’re a team going into the off-season with no first choice hooker or halfback.
“So all of a sudden you’re second guessing whether or not you want to put your hard earned in.”