Shane Flanagan wants to bring Tom Dearden to St George Illawarra as he believes the off-contract half will help keep Ben Hunt at the Dragons rather than serve as the veteran’s replacement.
Just one month into the top job at the Dragons, Flanagan has made his intentions known of wanting to attract top-line talent to Wollongong.
The premiership-winning Cronulla coach maintains the Dragons are only three signings away from being the football side he wants, pointing to similar moves he made early in his time at the Sharks.
Flanagan made early waves by declaring his interest in Joey Manu, but now concedes it is unlikely any club would be able to lure the Kiwis star away from the Sydney Roosters.
Addin Fonua-Blake does remain a priority with the prop having requested an immediate release this month before being talked into staying for 2024.
Dearden is another target for Flanagan with the 22-year-old off contract at North Queensland at the end of next season and already a free agent able to field offers from rivals.
“Tommy’s very similar to Joey (Manu), in that if he decides I want to test the market …he knows that we would love to talk,” Flanagan told AAP.
“He’s a young half, played Origin. Got the world at his feet.
“He could be the future halfback of this club for another five or six years. It would be silly not to investigate if he’s on the market.
“I don’t know if he is open to moving, we’ve spoken, but Tom is a different young kid as well. He doesn’t like the fanfare and the media and all that sort of stuff.
“We’ll respect that and when and if the time comes, well we’ll do our best.”
Dearden’s signature could theoretically allow the Dragons to facilitate Hunt’s exit, given the halfback’s well-known wish to be released from the final two years of his contract to return to Queensland.
But Flanagan made clear that was not the case.
He firmly maintains Hunt’s desire to leave can be fixed with results on the field and the recruitment of players like Dearden would prove the club is headed in the right direction.
“Ben would be that excited to have Tommy here at the club,” Flanagan said. “Ben’s frustration with the club is like many other people and many other supporters that we haven’t been winning.
“Ben wears his heart on his sleeve. And he’s the captain of the club that hasn’t done really well. So it weighs heavily on him. But every conversation from day one with Ben, I’ve said I’m not going to release him and there’s never been an argument of why or how.
“It’s always been ‘I understand Flanno, let’s move forward’.”
Flanagan also insisted Hunt remained the right man to be Dragons captain, despite the knocked-back request.
“He has the respect of the playing group,” Flanagan said. “They were a bit upset about what happened last year, but he’s got the respect of the playing group because he’s got the runs on the board.
“He’s played for his country. In big moments for the Dragons he can come up with some big plays.”