But the Red V are struggling to match the cashed-up Warriors, who have earmarked de Belin as a potential cornerstone of their pack and are prepared to offer the former State of Origin forward almost $200,000 a year more than his current deal.
And their valuation of the former State of Origin star could net him one of the biggest pay rises in the game despite not having the chance to be in the shop window.
The Warriors have also expressed an informal interest in off-contract Dragons centre Euan Aitken, who has rejuvenated his career since the competition reboot and is a close friend of de Belin’s.
The Warriors are looking to significantly reshape their roster. Blake Green and Gerard Beale are unlikely to stay in 2021 and they are also waiting for Adam Blair to formally take up an option in his favour for next season.
The option is believed to be a lucrative one and was used to entice the Kiwi international across the Tasman from Brisbane when the Dragons were also circling.
De Belin will be unable to visit the Warriors’ facilities in New Zealand given he surrendered his passport as part of his bail conditions. He will continue to conduct talks on video calls given he has been included in St George Illawarra’s biosecurity “bubble”.
His new deal will be signed before the NRL’s current contracting period ends on October 31, which is expected to be before any potential legal trial. De Belin has pleaded not guilty to aggravated sexual assault in company.
The Dragons regard him as crucial to their forward pack beyond this year given Tyson Frizell has accepted a deal to head to Newcastle from next year. Their 2019 season was left in freefall when de Belin’s Federal Court challenge against the no-fault stand-down rule was denied.
The club is also monitoring Corey Harawira-Naera’s situation at the Bulldogs after the NRL appeals committee overturned his deregistration following the Port Macquarie schoolgirl scandal.
There is better news for the Dragons. Emerging prop Josh Kerr is poised to sign a three-year deal to stay at the joint venture from next season.
The 24-year-old has agreed terms and will put pen to paper in coming weeks.
The two-time Indigenous All-Star has been a bright spark for Paul McGregor’s side this year. Despite playing just 16 NRL games, he has shown enough for the Dragons to offer a long-term contract extension.
St George Illawarra can move to the fringe of the top eight with victory over the battling Bulldogs at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
Canterbury’s only victory this season was against the Dragons at Bankwest Stadium last month, but St George Illawarra has since turned around their season.
“You’re not surprised in what you know the players are capable of,” McGregor said. “The big thing I feel is our more experienced players and higher profile players are playing better consistently and, when they do that, your young guys grow.”
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.