Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has declared his assistant Dean Pay is ready to be a head coach.
Pay is considered the favourite to replace coach Des Hasler at the Canterbury Bulldogs after the two-time premiership winner was sacked on Tuesday.
Stuart and Pay have worked together for the past five years, after they teamed up for one season with the Parramatta Eels and then moved to Canberra together to take the helm of the Raiders.
Pay's also in the running for the top job of Super League club Warrington Wolves, having had an interview with their chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick last week.
While Pay's been in charge of the Raiders' defensive structures, Stuart said he'd also provided valuable input right across the team and had been an invaluable member of his coaching panel.
Pay's had success coaching the NSW Blues under-20s and Stuart said he was ready to take over a team in his own right.
"I've been very fortunate with the quality of my assistant coaches and Dean's ready to be coaching first grade," Stuart said.
"He's never going to be any more ready. It's not a matter of time now it's a matter of when.
"Dean's very good at what he does. From a defence and an attack point of view we share a lot of ideas and as coaches we always come up with what's best for the player.
"I'm very fortunate because in this game it's a pretty volatile position, but to have people around you who you trust and are good people is No.1 on the list in regards to the characteristic of a value that you want of a person.
"That's certainly what we have here at the club and that's certainly what Dean Pay adds."
Pay is contracted to the Raiders until the end of next season, having signed a two-year extension last year.
But Stuart said they wouldn't stand in the way of Pay advancing his career.
Pay has been linked with the Bulldogs job for almost a year, after the Canterbury board began to have doubts about Hasler.
While Hasler was offered a two-year contract extension in April - which was just a Heads of agreement - he was subsequently sacked after Canterbury missed out on this season's finals.
It's the only time they've missed the eight in Hasler's time in charge.
Current Bulldogs assistant Jim Dymock and former South Sydney coach Michael Maguire were also candidates to replace Hasler.
Aside from the high regard he's held in, the fact Pay played 108 games for Canterbury was also believed to count in his favour because he knows the club.
"I've said it all along, I'll never stand in anyone's way in regards to progressing their future," Stuart said.
He said there was no point looking for a replacement for Pay until they knew he was definitely leaving.
If Pay didn't get either the Bulldogs or Warrington jobs - or any others currently vacant - then he'll remain with the Raiders next season.
Stuart, Pay and the Raiders' other assistant Mick Crawley have all been reviewing the Green Machine's disappointing season as they begin the task of returning the club to finals footy.
While Pay's future was up in the air, Stuart said they had plenty of time to act if required.
"The fortunate thing we've got as a business is this is all happening at the right time of the year," he said.
"It gives us time in regards to our planning. If nothing happens I'm the winner because Dean stays with us."