ST GEORGE Illawarra legend Mark Gasnier says the Dragons should consider dumping star fullback Josh Dugan and replacing him with a "value for money" player.
Dugan is off-contract this year and could command as much as $1 million-a-season beyond 2017 thanks to the NRL's increased salary cap.
His contract this year is believed to be worth about $750,000 and he's yet to commit beyond the coming season.
But with the Red V signing Ben Hunt on a $6 million five-year deal from 2018, and 22 players off contract this year, the Dragons' recruitment think tank has a daunting puzzle to piece together in the coming months.
One of the 22 players coming off contract is Test winger Jason Nightingale, who it's understood is in advanced talks to extend his contract by one or two years.
Gasnier says letting Dugan go could free up a chunk of money and help the club bolster other positions.
"Josh Dugan, if I'm being brutally honest, I think the Dragons should basically look at every position on its merits," Gasnier said.
"If Josh Dugan wants X amount, and potentially there's other options at a less amount that you think are going to be good value with Ben Hunt there, that's the whole idea of recruitment.
"You've got to get value for money, you really do."
St George Illawarra has made the finals just once since Dugan joined the club in 2013. In that time, he's alternated between centre and fullback but last year made the permanent switch to the No.1 jumper.
Dugan is considered one of the best running fullbacks in the NRL and can be damaging with ball in hand, but his ball-playing deficiencies have been a topic for conversation over the past two seasons in particular.
He's also developed a reputation for being injury-prone - last season he played 17 of a possible 24 club games. He also had neck surgery before the 2016 season.
Dugan is one of at least seven fullbacks off contract this year, alongside the likes of James Tedesco, Darius Boyd and Valentine Holmes.
But Gasnier believes the Dragons could be well served by looking inside the club rather than going to market for their next No.1.
"I believe Jai Field could develop into a real fullback ... would he be ready next year? Probably not," Gasnier said.
"They've got (Matt) Dufty there, see how he develops throughout the year."
Alternatively, Gasnier says his former club could go all out and spend big money on one of the off-contract fullbacks yet to be signed beyond 2017.
Tedesco is nearly three years younger than Dugan and while he could command as much money as the Dragons' Kangaroos star, Gasnier believes he could be better value long-term.
"Tedesco, potentially if you've gone hard at Ben Hunt, do you go the Melbourne theory and potentially put a big chunk of your salary cap into three or four players in those key positions?" Gasnier hypothesised.
Only two months ago Dugan spoke about his future in rugby league and said he hoped to remain in Wollongong for at least one more contract.
"I want to stay at the Dragons and hopefully that's what happens," Dugan said.
"I feel like they gave me a second chance and that's why I extended for so long in the first place."
Dugan has also floated the idea of playing rugby overseas, and even testing the waters in American football at some stage.
Of the 22 players off contract, Gasnier says the club should prioritise re-signing young forward Jack de Belin and fellow big man Russell Packer, who will join back-rowers Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson as the base of the Red V's 2018 pack.
He says the club must then decide whether to put faith in hooker Cameron McInnes or go to market for a new No.9 to bolster the spine alongside new halfback Hunt.
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