Perform or perish: Dragons’ message to off-contract stars
Perform or perish. That's the straightforward message coming out of St George Illawarra in respect to the futures of off-contract stars Matt Dufty and Corey Norman heading into the new NRL season.
Dragons management shocked and upset more than a few earlier this year after failing to make an offer to Cameron McInnes before the much-admired captain signed with Cronulla.
But instead of being scared off by the fallout from that, the Dragons are now expected to double down and play hardball with both Dufty and Norman until both players prove they deserve new deals.
While new coach Anthony Griffin is said to rate both players highly when they're playing at their best, what he wants to see now is them play at their best consistently before negotiations move forward.
Given what we all saw from the Dragons in the Charity Shield loss to South Sydney last weekend, it is understandable that the club is in no rush to make any rash decisions.
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But the problem for Dufty is that he was already agitating for a new deal back in January when he told the media: "I haven't heard anything from the club - it's a bit disappointing they haven't talked to me yet.
"I've given a lot to the Dragons since I was about 14, I'd just like to think they want me.
"That's all I want to feel. Money's not an issue, it's just the fact (he wants) a bit of respect."
But six weeks on and talks are still to kick off.
This is despite the fact the Dragons last week signed exciting youngster Cody Ramsey to an extension that keeps him at the club until the end of 2024.
Ramsey's rising status within may also hold the key to Dufty's future, given the youngster is a serious long-term option at fullback.
Tyrell Sloan is the other exciting fullback who is signed until the end of 2023.
The Dragons also have the promising Max and Mat Feagai coming through as outside backs, while Zac Lomax and Jack Bird are on long deals.
Dufty is now 25 and while he is one of the team's most dangerous attacking weapons, his ability to stop tries - and his defence in general - certainly needs to dramatically improve for him to be rated up with the NRL's best fullbacks.
Norman is in a similar predicament in that he isn't exactly in a strong bargaining position given his form in recent years hasn't nearly lived up to what is expected of a player on his lucrative salary.
Norman, 30, also has some good young players challenging for his spot in the shape of Jayden Sullivan, Junior Amone and Adam Clune.
With Norman suspended for the opening round, Sullivan and Clune are in the mix to start the season as Ben Hunt's halves partner.
Norman will likely come straight back in when he is available but he really needs to fire this season if he is to have any hope of striking a new deal.
While Dufty said previously that he wants the Dragons to show "they want me", the club is pretty much asking the same thing in respect to making on field performances do the talking from here.
If Dufty and Norman play to what they are capable they will no doubt get new deals in the coming months.
If not, they will be looking for a new home in 2022.
Originally published as Perform or perish: Dragons' message to off-contract stars