St George captain Cameron McInnes will leave the Dragons at the end of this season after inking a deal to join arch rivals the Sharks in 2022.
McInnes has been the heart and soul of the Red V but was forced out of his usual position of hooker last season and shifted to the back row as the club missed out on the finals yet again.
The bombshell defection is a major blow for the Dragons, and McInnes’ departure will sting even more given he’s joined their biggest rivals.
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Foxsports.com.au reports the deal with Cronulla is worth approximately $2.4 million over four years as life in the Shire loomed like a more appealing option than a rebuild under new Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, who was appointed after Paul McGregor was sacked last year.
McGregor urged St George to “do everything to keep McInnes”, who has previously been on the cusp of NSW Origin selection, but the club clearly hasn’t heeded his advice.
A specialist dummy-half, McInnes was moved into the back-row in a desperate attempt to cure the Dragons’ woes in 2020, as regular halfback Ben Hunt was shifted to hooker — a position many pundits agree is the Queenslander’s best, even if he sees himself as a No. 7.
Griffin has coached Hunt previously and believes he is a quality halfback, but where he decides to employ the 30-year-old remains to be seen.
The Dragons are reportedly also chasing veteran hooker and Queensland Origin representative Andrew McCullough, who played under Griffin at the Broncos. That pursuit likely influenced McInnes’ decision to jump ship, knowing such a coup would end his days as an 80-minute first grade hooker at St George.
McInnes has been crowned the Dragons’ best-and-fairest player for the past two years, but the club was not keen to offer him the long-term deal he was after.
McInnes will face stiff competition if he wants to regain his regular spot as a rake, because the Sharks already boast talented youngster Blayke Brailey in the position.
The tough-as-nails competitor started his NRL career with Souths in 2014, playing 39 games before establishing himself as a genuine star after arriving at St George in 2017.
The 27-year-old earnt a call-up to the Blues squad last season because of his versatility and his leadership qualities were highly valued by McGregor. Nobody took the former coach’s axing harder than McInnes, who felt the players had let down their boss by failing to perform to the required standard.
The Dragons must decide whether McInnes remains captain of the club in his final season before changing his red and white jersey for a black and blue one, or whether they opt to groom a replacement skipper by giving another player experience leading the side in 2021.