Trent Merrin is in the frame for a return to the Dragons. Pic: Mitch Cameron
Trent Merrin is in the frame for a return to the Dragons. Pic: Mitch Cameron

Merrin back in Dragons sights

ST George Illawarra are expected to rekindle their interest in premiership winning player Trent Merrin with the Dragons now armed with about $270,000 to spend this year in the wake of Jack de Belin's suspension.

The Dragons will apply for a salary cap dispensation this week having resisted the temptation to do so in the hope de Belin would be cleared in the federal court to return to the field. But that all came to a crashing halt on Friday.

St George Illawarra are now on the lookout for a de Belin replacement.

Merrin indicated an interest in returning to the club he won a 2010 premiership at in March. He is in the first season of a rich four-year deal with English Super League club Leeds but is having an unhappy time.

Conversations between Merrin and club officials have been ongoing in the background and are expected to heat up this week now they finally have a decision on de Belin's unavailability.

Without de Belin, the Dragons have just 28 contracted players and will need to fill two spots before June 30. They are also on the lookout for a cut priced outside back to sign this year to complete their roster.

Under NRL's rules, the Dragons can only replace de Belin with a "like for like" player to be eligible for the dispensation. The NRL will grant an exemption for the full amount of de Belin's wage.

The State of Origin forward is contracted to earn $545,000 this year, meaning the pro rata rate would enable them to spend about $270,000 for the rest of the year.

Merrin could add to the Red V’s forward depth. Picture by Brett Costello.
Merrin could add to the Red V’s forward depth. Picture by Brett Costello.

It is unclear when de Belin's criminal case will conclude meaning the Dragons will have to make another application next season to have the money exempt. This complicates any moves to sign a player long-term.

The cash-strapped Dragons had originally requested the NRL fit the bill for the extra player but the NRL rejected this move.

The Dragons could argue the cap space should go back to when de Belin was stood-down under the game's no-fault policy but this is unlikely.