Shane Flanagan believes the signing of Josh Dugan is one of the biggest in Cronulla’s history.
The Sharks announced on Saturday they had secured Dugan from fierce local rivals St George Illawarra on a four-year, $3 million deal starting next season.
The current Australian Test centre and veteran of nine State of Origin appearances for NSW is likely to slot in at centre to replace Brisbane-bound Jack Bird. Alongside star fullback Valentine Holmes, the Sharks have retained an enviable backline despite the loss of Bird.
It is not the first time Cronulla have signed a Test player. Les Davidson joined the club from South Sydney in 1991. Club legend Steve Rogers returned to the Sharks from St George in 1985 and – more recently – Brett Kimmorley (Northern Eagles) and Luke Lewis (Penrith) have started new chapters of their career in the shire as high profile representative players.
But Flanagan told the Leader the signing of Dugan was up there with any in Cronulla’s 50-year history.
“It’s not often clubs sign current Test and Origin players from another club. It’s a real positive for us for next year and the future,” he said.
“It’s a big deal. It goes to show where the club has come from and what we’re heading towards when we can attract these players.
“Obviously with Jack deciding to go to Brisbane it had an impact on where we went next. We needed to sign a quality outside back and Dugan obviously fits that category. We’d heard he’d had trouble [with his contract] with the Dragons and we contacted his manager and within a week, maybe two it was done.
“It’s been the case for maybe five or six years now we’ve been able to attract the top echelon of players. We’ve changed a lot in that five or six years as a club. We’ve won a grand final and playing semis every year puts you in that category that good players want to come and believe they can win a comp with you.”
It’s a big deal. It goes to show where the club has come from and what we’re heading towards when we can attract these players.Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan
Cronulla are also not finished in the player market. While most of their premiership-winning side is locked up after the re-signings of Chad Townsend, Wade Graham, Matt Prior and Sosaia Feki, Flanagan said the club was in a good position despite the challenges of securing their top talent after winning a title.
“Its definitely been a challenge. You’ve got to look forward a lot of the time and plan maybe for next year or the year after,” Flanagan said.
“Sometimes you don’t get it right. It's something as a coach where you look at what kids are coming through and when they’ll be ready. It’s a bit of a gamble on that sometimes. They might not come through as quick as you like or become as good as you’d like.
“It’s a bit of a challenge but that’s what we’re paid to do. The club is in a really good position. We’ve got Val, Chad, Jayden [Brailey], Wade and now Dugan locked up. It puts us in a good position to add more quality around them and continue down that path.”
St George Illawarra’s director of rugby league pathways Ian Millward said last week the club had decided not to match the offer on the table for Dugan from the Sharks.
Millward said while the club had been advised by Dugan’s management that he had received a “significant” offer from a rival club, St George Illawarra were not in a position to be able to match the offer.
“We’ve been in negotiations with Josh since November last season so it’s been an ongoing process but we’ve been advised by his management that they have a rival club that have made a significant offer,” he said.
“We had a clear message between both parties that we would keep each other open on all communications if we had a change of plans or if they had a change of plans. Or they had a better offer [than what] was on the table from us.
“They’re very high expectations for us to meet over the length of the contract and the salary. And we aren’t in a position at the moment to meet those high expectations.”
Millward intimated the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap for next season had played a part in St George Illawarra’s decision.
“Obviously the salary cap is still very open for debate and it’s obviously a much higher level than list management,” he said.
“So in the best interests of the club we’ve got to take on a lot of factors – multiple years of the salary cap moving forward, keeping our current squad and also the salary cap has been moving a fair bit over the last three months over how much it will be.
“You don’t want to get yourself in a position where we’re vulnerable down the track or we’re cornered on what we can do. So we have to keep working with the parameters we’re being guided by at the moment.”
Dugan and Dragons coach Paul McGregor believed the 27-year-old’s best position was fullback but St George Illawarra had reportedly tabled him an offer to play centre, a role which typically would pay less.