Johnathan Thurston ... out of contract at the end of next season. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Kangaroos stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and James Tamou are to be offered a percentage of North Queensland's salary cap in their next contracts due to the uncertainty about how high it will be.
The trio are among 230 NRL players off contract at the end of next season. They are free to negotiate with rival clubs from November 1.
The NRL announced on Wednesday that all clubs would receive a $7 million funding package for next year, which allows for a $2 million increase in the annual grant, to $5.85 million.
Todd Carney ... will be affected by the new salary cap. Photo: Getty Images
A salary cap of $5 million has been set for next season but the NRL and the Rugby League Players' Association are yet to agree on the terms of a collective bargain agreement, and will continue talks on Thursday.
When they do finalise a deal it is likely to be for next season only, leaving clubs and players to make an educated guess about how much the salary cap will be in 2014 and beyond when they negotiate new contracts.
Some of the biggest names in the game are affected, including Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne, NSW hooker Robbie Farah and halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney, Dragons second-rower Ben Creagh, Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds and Manly skipper Jamie Lyon.
The Cowboys are the club most affected, with 21 players off contract next season. They are headed by Thurston, who is expected to attract interest from St George Illawarra, Parramatta, Penrith, Canterbury and Gold Coast.
Scott and Tamou, the Australian front-rowers, will also be in high demand. Other North Queensland players unsigned beyond next season include Brent Tate, Robert Lui, Ashley Graham, Kane Linnett, Dallas Johnson, Glenn Hall and Matt Bowen.
The club had hoped until details of the cap were confirmed before stepping up negotiations but its chief executive, Peter Jordain, said this was no longer an option and it had to become creative in its offers.
''Clearly, that would have been better but we can only deal with the situation we have got,'' Jordain said. ''There has been discussions with the players, and there is discussion with the managers happening, too, this week. We are … going to do it based on a percentage of the salary cap.''
Another club heavily affected is Canterbury, which has Reynolds, Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman and Brent Hodkinson among 12 players coming off contract next season. Newcastle's Akuila Uate is another big name unsigned in 2014.