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Salary cap futures market: How each club stacks up long term as player swaps, releases and contract standoffs loom

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Expert
28th March, 2024
21
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Such is the state of the NRL’s laissez-faire player transfer system, the competition is just three weeks old and there is already speculation surfacing about deals for next week, next month, next season and beyond. 

Some clubs have plenty of flexibility with their salary cap, some not so much but the simple fact of having dollars to spare does not mean you will be able to sign marquee free agents. 

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett recently revealed the NRL’s newest team had as much as $2 million remaining in their salary cap for this season but splashing cash on Tevita Pangai jnr is off the table with the supposedly retired prop turned boxer waiting on an offer from the Broncos.

St George Illawarra’s Zac Lomax could be out of Wollongong as early as next week if the club can find a satisfactory player swap deal with Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona the latest big name linked to Shane Flanagan’s rebuild. 

Maroons forward David Fifita could exercise an option to walk away from the final two years of his lucrative Gold Coast contract. 

His situation is a double-edged sword for the Titans – he hasn’t delivered value since he arrived from Brisbane on an unprecedented mega deal in 2021 but if he jumps ship, it is yet another case of the club not being able to hang onto a representative star.

And Fijian speedster Sunia Turuva could be the latest Panther coming down the mountain to a bigger deal elsewhere with the prolific winger set to test his value on the open market.

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Turuva is one of the few off-contract players in 2024 who will command a lucrative deal elsewhere.

Most clubs have tied up their main players beyond next year with the majority of players who will be free agents at the end of this season at the end of their career, not yet proven commodities at NRL level or journeymen who subsist on short-term contracts. 

The Warriors are set to be the least active club in the player transfer frenzy this year with only three of their current senior squad coming off the books. 

2024202520262027+
Brisbane61345
Canberra71165
Canterbury81256
Cronulla61481
Dolphins91155
Gold Coast611112
Manly7974
Melbourne8875
Newcastle81263
Nth Qld111214
Parramatta81444
Penrith10477
St George Illawarra121061
Sth Sydney10927
Roosters10955
Warriors315100
Wests Tigers61086

They are also the only club with nobody signed beyond 2026 – Cronulla have just one in Nicho Hynes while every other team has at least three long-term signings.

Not surprisingly, St George Illawarra have the most players not signed beyond this year at 12 as they try to overhaul their roster following the failed Anthony Griffin. 

The Cowboys are next with 11 of their current roster in the final year of their deal and after jettisoning Luciano Leilua to the Dragons recently, reports have emerged that fellow second-rower Jack Gosziewski could also be leaving the tropics as he seeks a release to join Brisbane on compassionate grounds.

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North Queensland have veterans who are likely to retire or not be offered another deal in Jake Granville, Kyle Feldt and Chad Townsend as they free up funds to keep their young guns in harness.

What they do with Townsend will be interesting – he will be 34 by the time next season rolls around and he’s still a solid performer who has helped halves partner Tom Dearden’s development over the past few years. 

Chad Townsend passes

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

There were plenty of eyebrows raised when the Cowboys signed Townsend from Cronulla on a three-year deal at a reported $750,000 a season but as he has done over the course of what is now a 14-year career, he has played a key role without ever being considered elite for his position.

Penrith have the smallest wriggle room in their salary cap long term and that’s the way they like it.

The Panthers have 14 of their triple premiership-winning roster signed up to 2026 or beyond, more than any other club. 

They’ve got 10 unsigned this season but that is mainly due to their policy of rotating through reliable role players on cheap deals like Luke Garner, Tyrone Peachey, Zac Hosking and Daine Laurie to complement their established stars.

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For teams like the Dragons, Titans and the Dolphins who are looking to add big names to their club to get into title contention, they need to have more than just money to attract elite talent. 

They need to lift themselves up the ladder so they’re at least fringe finals contenders because very few stars want to join a team that’s perennially finishing in the also-rans. 

And if they do, they will only sign on the dotted line for a lot more than market value and that method quickly chews up the salary cap but doesn’t translate into wins on the playing field. Bulldogs fans can attest to that from what they’ve seen over the past couple of years.

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