Cronulla have beaten St George Illawarra to the signature of Addin Fonua-Blake after the New Zealand Warriors prop was granted a release to join the Sharks from 2025.
The sought-after middle forward was keen on a return to Sydney after next season, with Wests Tigers' big-money pursuit of Jarome Luai effectively ruling them out of the race.
Incoming Dragons coach Shane Flanagan had been in discussions with the 28-year-old about a return to the club he captained at youth level, describing the signing as "enormous" and a key cog in the retention of star playmaker Ben Hunt.
But on Tuesday it was the Sharks trumpeting a four-year deal, with Fonua-Blake granted a release from the final three years of his Warriors contract on compassionate grounds.
For the Dragons it was a twist of the knife mere hours after North Queensland playmaker Tom Dearden had also rejected a move to instead ink a five-year contract extension.
Fonua-Blake was named alongside Payne Haas in the Dally M team of the year after powering the Warriors to a top-four finish and preliminary final.
"On the back of a couple of outstanding seasons, everyone has seen what he is capable of and we look forward to Addin playing a major role for us here at the Sharks,” coach Craig Fitzgibbon said of the former Manly prop.
“Throughout the negotiation process we have been impressed by his attitude, his genuine desire to help make the Sharks successful and to complement and work alongside both those in our leadership group and the young forwards we have coming through our system."
The Dragons had set the pace to lure 22-year-old Dearden south on a big-money deal.
But Dearden has opted to remain true to his Queensland roots and secure his future until the end of the 2029 season.
In his two-and-a-half seasons since joining the Cowboys from the Brisbane Broncos, Dearden has appeared in 58 games, scoring 22 tries and assisting on a further 28.
“This is a great day for our club, locking in one of the most talented young playmakers in rugby league to remain in a Cowboys jersey until the end of the decade,” Cowboys general manager of football Micheal Luck said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Today’s announcement finalises what we believe is a solid foundation for our club to build around, with Tom, Scott Drinkwater and Reece Robson all locked into long-term deals.
“We were always confident Tom wanted to remain part of our club because he has thrived in our environment.
"His improvement as a player has been considerable since he first arrived in 2021, and we believe he’s only scratched the surface."
Dearden was part of the Cowboys Academy system in Mackay before relocating his schooling to the Gold Coast and making his NRL debut for the Broncos as an 18-year-old in 2019.
He signed with the Cowboys midway through the 2021 season with his young career at a crossroads, and went on to make his Queensland State of Origin debut the following season in the Maroons' series win.