Salford offered the captaincy to Matty Smith in a vain bid to keep hold of the scrum-half in the face of competition from the bigger clubs, assistant coach Sean Long has revealed.
The 24-year-old Smith, an understudy to Long for four years at St Helens, has rejected a new contract from the Reds after receiving more tempting offers from Wigan and St Helens, as well as Widnes.
"It is a massive blow," said Long. "When I came in he was playing nine and I said to him 'Matty, you are not a nine - I want you to play seven and play on the ball', similar to what I was doing at St Helens."
He added: "So I have given him everything knowledge-wise that I have had and he is learning and has improved game by game.
"We were going to build the team around him - we even told him that we wanted him as captain in the coming years.
"But the situation is that other clubs could offer him more money and are bigger clubs.
"That is what happened with Stefan Ratchford last year. We just can't keep hold of our big-name players and it is sad really."
Long believes if Smith can continue his rate of improvement, he can go on to win full England honours.
"He is still learning the game," he added. "He is in the Knights squad, which is great for him.
"I've always said he needs to take the line on a little bit more and once he does that, I think he'll be in the England squad."