Balmain legend Ben Elias predicts the Wests Tigers face a lengthy and painful rebuild after James Tedesco and Aaron Woods failed to sign contract extensions with the NRL club.
The star pair's management did not accept long-term contract offers before a 5pm Friday deadline, prompting the club to withdraw the deals.
Tigers skipper Woods is now expected to sign with Canterbury, while incumbent NSW fullback Tedesco is set to link with the Roosters - compounding the loss of five-eighth Mitchell Moses to Parramatta.
While coach Ivan Cleary has assured the club will be active in the marketplace and in the running to secure a marquee recruit, Elias compared the club's looming rebuild to current NRL stragglers Newcastle.
'Sadly, three of the juniors that we've nurtured and brought through the system are gone in one fell swoop. One stroke of a pen,' Elias told AAP.
'That's extremely disappointing for the fans, sponsors and most importantly the club.'
And the former NSW State of Origin rake believes the pain could reverberate for some time as the Tigers have to deal with the loss of their star trio.
It leaves halfback Luke Brooks as the only member of the so-called 'big four' to stay on at the club.
'This is like Newcastle,' Elias said. 'It's going to take a while.
'We've invested in these kids for a while and suddenly they're not there.
'We've lost two club captains now in less than 12 months. That hurts.'
The Tigers now face the challenge of luring marquee names to a club that haven't played finals football since 2011 - a drought second only to Parramatta.
'Coaches and players come and go. The club's still there, which is the most important thing. There's a lot of rebuilding,' Elias said.
'Our recruitment person now has the most important job in the joint.
'They need to get a player who's going to be attractive for other players to join the club. They have to.'
Elias, who is an uncle to Moses, also urged the departing players to make the most of their final season at the Tigers and aim for finals football.
The Tigers are 14th with two wins from their opening seven games.
'Do you write off this year? No. You've got a side there that can make the top eight,' Elias said.
'I'd be very disappointed if they wrote this year off from a coach and player's point of view.
'There's a lot of life left this year. All you need is three or four wins in a row and you're back on deck.'