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Plenty of Cowboy NRL players up for grabs
Wayne Heming
17:24 AEST Thu Nov 22 2012

North Queensland's chief negotiator Peter Parr will be the busiest man in the NRL next season, not only trying to keep superstar Johnathan Thurston on the Cowboys' books but also another dozen top players who are off contract in 2014.

The Cowboys remain confident the club's marquee player will end his career in Townsville despite Thurston's after-dark rendezvous with Canterbury management in Sydney on Wednesday night.

Cowboys' coach Neil Henry declared this week the playing depth had never been better during his time at the club.

But right now, he only has six members of his 20-man squad signed beyond 2013 - brothers Tariq and Ashton Sims, halves utility Ray Thompson, forwards Rick Thorby and Gavin Cooper and international winger Kalifa Faifai Loa.

That leaves quality players including Thurston, Australian front-rowers Matt Scott and James Tamou, representatives Dallas Johnson, Brent Tate and Matt Bowen and the club's leading try scorer last year Ashley Graham, all on the NRL open market.

Throw in young 110kg junior Kiwi and Australian schoolboy Jason Taumalolo, impressive centre Kane Linnett and outside back Antonio Winterstein and the Cowboys have footballing talent worth more than $2.5 million still unsigned.

"I haven't counted them. We've got a fair few (coming off contract)," said football manager Parr when asked about Thurston and the club's other players who are free to negotiate elsewhere.

"We're feeling pretty comfortable at the moment - nobody's indicated they want to leave."

Parr said player negotiations were hamstrung because the ARL's new commission was yet to settle on the salary cap under which NRL clubs would operate in 2014.

A delay with signing a new collective bargaining agreement was also making player negotiations difficult.

"Once the NRL are good enough to give us some clarity around the salary cap for 2014, we'll be able to get cracking," said Parr.

"We're comfortable. We're just in a holding pattern at the moment.

"It's not a big problem. Once the cap is set (2014), we'll get to work."

Parr dismissed suggestions the Cowboys were upset by reports Thurston had met Bulldogs' bosses.

"We're not upset. He's going through a process that we are well aware of," he said.

The Cowboys have held their own contract talks with Thurston who is on holidays and not due back for pre-season training until early next month.