There are currently some 190 players who remain without a contract beyond this season.
For the statistically minded, that represents about 40 per cent of the combined 30-man squad strengths of the 16 clubs.
Nothing unusual about these numbers at this time of year, though, and no doubt clubs are firming up their future plans, filling paper bags with cash, and communicating with avaricious player agents as you read this.
Looking a bit deeper, though, and nearly 40 of the players not contracted beyond this year will be 30 years of age or more by the time the 2022 season kicks off.
League is increasingly becoming a young man’s game (think the Penrith Panthers) and many of this older brigade may unfortunately not be offered a contract in the NRL beyond this year, while others may be looking at their last opportunity in the NRL.
Here’s my prediction of how things will pan out for these tricenarians. Part 2 of this article will look at the remaining clubs. Player’s age at the beginning of the 2022 season is shown in brackets.
Dane Gagai (31)
Gagai is having one of his better seasons at club level and once again will be one of the first players selected for the Queensland Origin team. Now that the Adam Reynolds departure has been confirmed, it looks like Souths will now move to tie up Gagai for at least 2022.
Mark Nicholls (32)
The big front rower has played every game this year and has added plenty of impact off the bench. Souths could do a lot worse than give him at least another season, and I’m sure he’ll be there again next year.
Benji Marshall (37)
Marshall becomes more enigmatic as he gets older.
A great player off the bench but not so great when given the play making reins for the whole 80 minutes.
Given the departure of Reynolds next year, and the fact that Souths aren’t paying big money for Marshall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wearing the 14 jersey for Souths again next year and probably finish his career in third place behind Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk for the most games played.
Blake Ferguson (32)
Ferguson has started the year well, scoring six tries and consistently pumping out the hard carries and racking up the metres for the Eels.
Meanwhile, Parramatta have been sniffing around the market for some new outside backs, so far without success.
They’ll offer Ferguson another one-year contract for well under his current reported salary of $500,000 per year, but he may take cousin Anthony Mundine’s advice and look for a longer term deal on more money with another NRL club.
Michael Oldfield (31)
Now at his seventh club in 12 years, Oldfield was a depth signing by the Eels this year. Injuries got his season off to a bad start and he hasn’t appeared in first grade yet. It looks like his best opportunity next year will be in the Super League.
Anthony Don (34)
Don is a club legend with the Titans (Don is good).
He holds the club record for the most tries scored with 85, (although he hasn’t crossed the stripe this year yet), has just brought up his 150th game for the club and needs only a handful more to move into second place all-time behind Mark Minichello.
He’s done some great things on the field during his nine seasons on the coast, but I suspect that his time at the Titans will be up this year and I can’t see him being picked up by another club.
Tyrone Peachey (30)
Peachey is having one of his best seasons for the Gold Coast this year, despite his team’s patchy form, and he has made the number 13 jersey his and his alone.
The Titans would be mad not to extend him for a couple of more years, but given their other salary cap pressures, might want to pay him somewhat less than his current reported salary of $600,000. I can’t see Peachey leaving the Titans just yet.
Mitch Rein (31)
Mitch Rein is a tough little guy and very much a survivor.
He’s about to bring up his 200th first grade game but it looks like the Titans are in the market to replace him. I’d be surprised to see him on the coast next year, but he’d still add value to the bottom-tier clubs as part of a two-hooker rotation.
Dale Copley (30)
Surprisingly, Dale Copley is now in his 13th season in the NRL and is averaging around 12 first grade games per year. He’s a strong and reliable outside back and rarely lets the team down, and the Broncos will most likely retain him next year to provide some depth.
Alex Glenn (33)
Also in his 13th season, Glenn has been a one-club Broncos legend and currently captains the side, but injuries and waning form have limited his appearances over the last two years. I expect he will retire from the game at the end of this season. He has nothing left to prove.
David Mead (33)
Mead has made a surprisingly strong return to both the Broncos and the NRL this year after three seasons in the Super League. The Broncos lack depth in the outside backs and could do a lot worse than hanging on to Mead for another season.
Ben Te’o (35)
The dual international made his first grade debut way back in 2007, but injuries have limited his time in first grade this year. Like Alex Glenn, I expect Ben Te’o will retire from the game this year.
Leeson Ah Mau (32)
Ah Mau is still a solid performer, and has played every game for the Warriors this year, primarily off the bench. You know what you’re going to get from Leeson, and I expect him to have at least one more season with the Warriors next year.
Jack de Belin (31)
De Belin has now been stood down by the NRL for over two years. If he is acquitted, expect to see him back on the field wearing the red V. If not, his career will be most likely be over.
Gerard Beale (31)
Beale retired from the game at the end of last season, but Anthony Griffin has now brought him out of retirement on a training contract for the rest of the season. I don’t expect Beale to make it onto the paddock in first grade this year and he will no doubt retire again at season’s end.
Corey Norman (31)
On a reported salary of $800,000, Norman has been an expensive disappointment as a playmaker. Despite this, coach Anthony Griffin is a Corey Norman fan, so I expect he’ll be re-signed by the Dragons for next year, but most likely at a much lower salary.
Michael Chee Kam (30)
Chee Kam was a consistent performer for the Tigers until he suffered a bad concussion in 2020. His form this year has been well below his capabilities and I suspect that he may be cut loose at the end of the year, with his best future prospects being in the Super League.
No players off-contract who are aged 30 years or more!