Wests Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe insists the club did everything in its power to retain James Tedesco and Aaron Woods.
The Tigers are disappointed the superstar duo didn't take up the lucrative four-year contracts offered to them, failing to notify the Tigers of their intention before the Friday, 5pm deadline imposed on the pair during the week. Woods is bound for Canterbury, while Tedesco is set to sign with the Sydney Roosters for next season - leaving Luke Brooks as the sole survivor of the "big four" following Mitchell Moses' decision to sign with Parramatta.
"I'm really comfortable that we afforded them every opportunity to stay here," Pascoe said of Woods and Tedesco. "We can always learn from the way we do things. It's been a challenging time for all involved. These things take time. Throughout any negotiations there's a lot of going back and forth. But we're really comfortable with the fact that we afforded the players every opportunity that we could to stay at the club.
"We respect their decision and they'll continue to play with the heart they've played with for this organisation for some time now for the rest of the season."
The defection of their three biggest names leaves the Tigers with close to a $4 million war chest to spend next year, with Josh Reynolds high on their list after learning Gareth Widdop is set to re-sign at the Dragons.
The club is hopeful Ben Matulino and Russell Packer will add some mongrel to a pack that will be without Woods next year, excited about the prospect of finally overcoming what has seemed like a never-ending battle with salary cap restraints.
"The club is in a really exciting position," Pascoe said. "We've had years and years of salary cap challenges. We believe we've built some really robust processes to make sure that doesn't happen in the future. [In] 2018, there's a lot of freedom around our salary cap.
"For the first time in probably the club's 17-year history, we enter a market that has nearly 200 players on the market with a freed-up salary cap and significant amount of power to help build this club's roster into a strong football team."
The decision to impose a deadline on Woods and Tedesco was designed to give the club more time to move in the player market in the event the pair decided to leave the Tigers.
Pascoe stands by the decision to set a deadline and believes it was made in the interest of both the club and the players.
"The intent and motivation behind that was to place some certainty, not only for the club but for the players as well," Pascoe said. "That deadline passed today at 5pm and as a result of not receiving official confirmation from the players' manager, the club has decided to withdraw the current contract offers in place.
"Both James and Aaron and their manager have been really engaging throughout the process. This has been a really challenging time for all parties. It's gone a long time and certainly with regret that it has gone on for so long. But these are really tough decisions for any player who has been at a club for a long time.
"Whether we like it or not, it is a business today and the players have been going through the process of making a decision that is in the best interest of themselves and their families.
"We have the utmost respect for that and for them in doing that. Imposing the deadline, that creates certainty so that we can make decisions in the best interest of the club and the club first. We will always act in the best interests of the club."