St George Illawarra claim they offered Tyson Frizell one of the biggest contracts in the club's history before he opted to join Newcastle on a three-year deal.
In a bitter blow for the Red V, the Knights on Friday confirmed Frizell had accepted a contract worth a reported $2.1 million that was offered in January.
Dragons recruitment manager Ian Millward said the club made the best offer it could before Frizell decided to leave Wollongong at season's end.
"Tyson Frizell received one of the most substantial offers in St George Illawarra history to remain at the club beyond the 2020 season," Millward said.
"It was a deal that reflected his contribution over the past eight years, and of course, the seasons that would have followed.
"We made responsible decisions when determining Tyson's value and contract extension.
"Tyson's decision to depart the Dragons at season's end will now allow the club to pursue other quality players in the marketplace."
League headquarters have yet to register the contract, with all new or updated deals on hold while the season is suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
The announcement comes a month after the current Kangaroos and NSW State of Origin forward spoke about his personal ambition to lift a trophy.
And it appears he believes it will be with Newcastle, who boast a roster that already includes Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti.
Frizell played with the latter three during the Blues' Origin triumph last year.
The Knights currently sit on top of the table after winning their opening two games of the season before it was abruptly halted by the global pandemic.
The Dragons lost their two games.
St George Illawarra teammate Graham said he couldn't argue with Frizell, who at 28 years of age is arguably at the peak of his powers, for wanting to chase a ring.
"I don't disagree with him for saying that that's why he wants to play. That's what most of us would want to do," Graham said on Fox League Mornings.
"If Tyson's got his reasons for going to Newcastle, then that's fair enough. Obviously if he's choosing Newcastle over St George, then it's disappointing."
The 34-year-old Graham is himself out of contract at the end of the season and his possible departure, along with Frizell, would give the Dragons plenty of salary cap space.
"It is what it is. To be honest, I'm here for the same amount of time as Tyson. I've got another year left," Graham said.
"Hopefully we can do something together if we get the season back on track."
Australian Associated Press