Cameron Munster may be the one making all the headlines at the moment but he is not the only big name to monitor ahead of the November 1 deadline.
That deadline, of course, will allow rival clubs to approach Munster and a host of other talented players who their respective clubs are desperate to tie up before then.
From key duos at Penrith and Parramatta to one of the NRL’s premier halfbacks, there are a number of players holding out to test themselves on the open market.
There have been plenty of updates on their contract situation in the past few months but here foxsports.com.au gives you the lowdown on where things stand and whether anything has changed.
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EELS: MITCHELL MOSES & DYLAN BROWN
With Reed Mahoney already on the way to the Bulldogs and Isaiah Papali’i joining the Tigers, this could be the Eels’ final serious tilt at the title.
It may also be their penultimate season with Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses as the first-choice halves pairing.
Parramatta reportedly tabled an extension to Moses which would have kept him at the club until the end of the 2027 season.
For the time being though, Moses and Brown are said to be waiting until November 1 to see what sort of interest they get from rival clubs.
Eels coach Brad Arthur was asked about Moses’ future last month but did not seem overly concerned, confident the halfback would prefer to stay put.
“It’d be silly to think that people aren’t interested in Mitchell Moses but we’re very keen to keep him,” Arthur said at the time.
“He’s very keen to stay. Those things always sort of sort themselves out when the feeling is mutual and both parties want the same outcome.”
As for Brown, he said earlier this month that his manager will handle all contract negotiations and that he would rather his focus be on the field.
At this stage, the 22-year-old is not going to discuss any contract extension until after the World Cup.
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STORM: CAMERON MUNSTER
It looks pretty obvious at this point that it is a two-way battle for Munster’s signature, with the Dolphins the clear biggest threat to Melbourne’s hopes of keeping their star playmaker.
Although don’t completely rule out Kevin Walters’ Broncos making a play and according to Fox League’s James Hooper, even the Wests Tigers are throwing their hat in the ring.
Regardless, if this decision was about money and money alone it would be over by now and Melbourne is well aware it is up against it in that sense.
It is why they increased their offer to an amount which Munster’s manager, Braith Anasta, said was “in the ballpark” and left the five-eighth with a “tough decision to make”.
But forget the money for a second because the Storm are pushing a different selling point anyway — and rightly so.
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Speaking on SEN Sportsday earlier this week Storm CEO Justin Rodski confirmed the club has increased its offer in a bid to convince Munster to stay put.
But Rodski also spoke at length about the other key factors that could tip the scales in Melbourne’s favour.
“I know he wants to be a one-club player and I know that he loves Melbourne, we’re hopeful that offer is enough for him to stay, and we can sign him on long-term and he can become that one-club player.
“It’s extremely difficult [to compete with the Dolphins’ financial power], you’re effectively injecting $10 million into the marketplace. That obviously brings opportunity to players to earn more money if they were to go to a franchise like that.
“We like to think that the environment that we’ve created, the culture, the development the players get, the coaching from Craig Bellamy and ultimately for a lot of players coming down to Melbourne to get away from the spotlight in Sydney and Brisbane.”
Storm coach Bellamy echoed similar sentiments when asked about Munster’s contract situation last week, declaring “we’ll go all out with what we can do to keep him here”.
PANTHERS: STEPHEN CRICHTON & LIAM MARTIN
The Panthers have 10 players off-contract at the end of the 2023 season, headlined by NSW Blues representatives Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o and Liam Martin.
Crichton though is most likely to command big money on the open market, with the Penrith centre telling Fox Sports News earlier in the week he is in no rush to sort out his future.
“I haven’t really spoken to my manager much at all,” he said.
“Everytime I do ask him he just basically tells me to focus on footy. That’s what I’m good at. I just leave most of that stuff to him. He’s told me that before and that’s what I’ve done the past few months.”
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Given he is capable of playing fullback, Penrith may find itself backing out of a potential bidding war if rival clubs start circling the 21-year-old.
Crichton has already been linked to the Bulldogs and Dolphins, both of which would be keen for a player of his natural talent and ability at the back.
It would not automatically come together for Crichton though, who only has six starting appearances at fullback to his name.
He said as much last year when filling in at the back for the injured Dylan Edwards, telling reporters his time in the No.1 jersey was a “real learning curve”.
Crichton did though also admit it lit a fire in his desire to play in the position should it open up in the near future, which it won’t at the foot of the mountains.
Not only is Edwards Penrith’s long-term option, Charlie Staines and Sunia Turuva are both capable replacements at the back and more cost-effective alternatives too.
There is always another promising product come through Penrith’s junior system too, in this case Isaiah Iongi, who has been consistently improving in NSW Cup.
As for Martin, his preference is to remain at Penrith but the second-rower’s manager is holding out for more money.
Five clubs — the Dragons, Tigers, Storm, Sharks and Eels — are all interested in Martin according to The Daily Telegraph, who reported the Panthers tabled a three-year offer in response.
That new offer though is still not enough to get a deal over the line, with Martin’s manager Al Gainey telling The Telegraph: “We realise Penrith is under a tight situation but Liam is certainly deserving of a very good contract in upcoming talks. The club’s reluctance to be able to offer an upgrade at this stage is a little bit of a sticking point.”
Should Martin depart, Penrith has young gun Mavrik Geyer in its system and capable of filling the void while Zac Hosking is also reportedly on the way over from Brisbane.
RABBITOHS: CODY WALKER & LATRELL MITCHELL
Having already copped plenty of criticism for Adam Reynolds’ exit last season, South Sydney is doing everything in its power to keep both Walker and Mitchell.
Whether that happens or not may depend on what happens with Munster, given if Wayne Bennett misses out on his main man, his next top target will be Mitchell.
The master coach said as much to News Corp earlier in the week, although admitting that South Sydney could of course make a move before Mitchell even hits the open market.
“I haven’t had talks with Latrell, but if he is on the open market in November, then yes I’m interested,” Bennett said.
“He has been negotiating with South Sydney and they might do a deal before he becomes a free agent. Right now, he isn’t on the market. If Latrell does go to the open market, there will be 16 other clubs chasing him and we will be one of them.”
The Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio reported on Fox League’s ‘NRL 360’ on Wednesday that Bennett could target both Mitchell and Walker as a “package deal”.
He did add that South Sydney remains “extremely confident” in retaining both players and South Sydney CEO Blake Solly made that clear earlier this week too.
“Unlike Redcliffe we’ve made it clear Latrell is our priority along with other senior players we have at the club,” Solly told Fox Sports.
“We’d like them all to remain here at Redfern. They’ve made a great contribution to our success on and off the field in recent years.
“We think they have plenty of their careers ahead of them at South Sydney. We also want to make it blatantly clear we won’t be releasing anyone who is contracted to the club for 2023.”
While Walker and Mitchell want to remain at Redfern, Fox League’s James Hooper said there are whispers the duo could wait until November 1 to test their value.
That does not mean they won’t end up at South Sydney in the end but it will keep the Rabbitohs sweating as rival clubs, headlined by Bennett’s Dolphins, circle.
“Latrell and Cody Walker are clearly joined at the hip right, they are best mates, they do everything together,” Hooper said.
“Where it gets interesting, Souths have been backgrounding people for quite a while now saying in all likelihood, Latrell and Cody will be staying at the Bunnies.
“There’s been a couple of quiet whispers kicking around for the last couple of months now that maybe, they’re just going to wait (to sign an extension with South Sydney).
“They are not saying they won’t stay… but we are getting closer to November 1.”
Hooper reported South Sydney is looking to pay Mitchell more than $1 million a season and extend him for three years while Walker is looking at a two year deal worth around $600,000-a-season.
DRAGONS: BEN HUNT
He is the Dragons’ star attraction and one of the best players in the NRL but is there enough room in the salary cap to keep Ben Hunt in Wollongong for a few more years?
Hunt wants to stay put and the Dragons are pushing to extend their prized halfback, with a number of clubs said to be monitoring his contract situation.
But there does not appear to be any clear end in sight to the negotiations.
It comes amid a report from Channel 9’s Danny Weidler earlier this week that the Dragons offered Hunt a two-year extension worth just $700,000 a season, well below the expected amount of $875,000.
An additional report from The Sydney Morning Herald has since claimed Hunt requested to have his contract extension tied to coach Anthony Griffin’s future, which was knocked back by the Dragons.
While the 32-year-old was expected to be line for a pay cut given his age, it was not tipped to be this significant given his stellar form on the field this year.
In the end though, Fox League’s James Hooper reported on Thursday that Hunt is said to be “extremely happy” at the Dragons and a “good chance” of extending two seasons.
Whether that changes depending on Griffin’s future at the club remains to be seen.
For Hunt, it may also be a case of taking the best opportunity he can get to compete for a title and that would not come at the Dragons.
There are plenty of talented youngsters at the Red V, headlined by Jayden Sullivan who reportedly will move on should Hunt re-sign, meaning this is a team of the future.
It will still be a few years before the Dragons are back challenging for a premiership and by that point Hunt’s will be in the final stages of his career.
Hunt has been linked to the Dolphins and even the Titans, although neither side would be in a strong position to contend for a title either.
A Broncos homecoming could be another option on the cards but Adam Reynolds is not off-contract until at the end of the 2024 season, so that casts doubt over any possible reunion.
COWBOYS: JEREMIAH NANAI
He is the clear breakout Rookie of the Year and would prefer to stay in North Queensland long-term.
But it will cost the Cowboys big time if they want to keep Nanai, with Fox League’s James Hooper reporting earlier this month that they will have to put up “a hell of a fight”.
Nanai signed a one-year extension at the Cowboys for this season despite having multi-year deals thrown his year, some of which were reportedly worth up to $600,000 a season.
The challenge for North Queensland now will be convincing Nanai to stay loyal once again as rival clubs circle.
Speaking to News Corp earlier this month, Nanai said he would “love to stay” at North Queensland long-term but that he would leave talks until November 1.
“My contract was about to end so I wanted to get something sorted out for next year so just did the one-year deal,” Nanai said.
“I would love to stay here long-term. When it comes November 1, we can negotiate with the Cowboys and look to stay longer.
“It would definitely be hard to leave. The Cows have been good to me. They have been a good club for myself. I’ve got family close by, just four hours away. The missus is here too. It would be hard to make a move somewhere else, especially to a big city.
“I’ll leave it to November 1. I just want to focus on the Cowboys this year.”
Cowboys head of football Michael Luck also admitted at the time that if a rival club comes up with a long-term offer worth $1-million-a-year, it would be “difficult” to keep Nanai.