Coach-in-waiting Steve Price faces a major test of his plans for St George Illawarra Dragons’s future as he tries to stop star rookie Alex McKinnon from following Wayne Bennett to Newcastle.
Contingency plans had already been devised around the loss of fullback Darius Boyd, who has signed with the Knights for four years.
McKinnon, off contract at the end of the year, forms a key part of the post-Bennett era, but Price is facing an uphill battle to keep him at the Dragons.
The 19-year-old, who scored two tries on debut in the loss to the Gold Coast on Friday night, has been Boyd’s housemate for the past two years and looks to him as a mentor.
McKinnon has family at Scone, near where Newcastle owner Nathan Tinkler’s thoroughbred operations are based.
However, the rangy centre is torn as Price played a key role in his development while coaching the Dragons under 20s.
He was discovered by St George Illawarra recruitment manager Craig Young at 14, but admits moving to Newcastle is appealing.
‘‘Yeah, it’s an option. I’m in negotiations at the moment. My manager [Paul Sutton] is sorting it out.’’
Bennett has stated he has no intention of stripping the Dragons stocks to rebuild the Knights next year.
But having signed Boyd, Newcastle have also made overtures to Kiwi international Nathan Fien, who is contracted with the Dragons until the end of next season.
McKinnon has spent most of his playing career in the back row, but was moved to the centres in the preseason by Bennett, which paved the way for his NRL debut.