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NRL halves market at sixes and sevens

NZN 10/04/2017 Scott Bailey

The NRL could be set for the biggest play-making merry-go-round in years, with more than half of teams' combinations undecided for 2018.

Since the turn of the decade, an average of six clubs per year have started their season with a new halfback and five-eighth.

Usually, that is largely made up of the second, less-dominant playmaker changing clubs.

In 2018, that number is likely to balloon closer to 10 - with a cast of big names set for changes.

Canberra, Manly, Penrith, South Sydney, the Sydney Roosters and Gold Coast are the lone clubs to be settled for next year.

North Queensland are likely to be added to that list as soon as this week, once injured Johnathan Thurston re-signs.

Newcastle also have both halves signed in Brock Lamb and Trent Hodkinson, but are eager to secure the services of Cronulla's Jack Bird at five-eighth - who is also being pursued by Brisbane.

The fate of the 15 unsigned playmakers is likely to wait largely on Cooper Cronk, and confirmation of Mitchell Moses' departure from the Wests Tigers in 2018.

Sydney clubs are unlikely to want to commit to new halves while they have the room and space for Cronk, if he decides to play on.

Meanwhile, if the Tigers are to lose Moses, leading player managers expect them to throw big money at potential candidates to partner Luke Brooks to ensure they get their man.

Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe has confirmed the club will eye Gareth Widdop, Shaun Johnson or Kieran Foran.

Any of those would trigger a number of moves in the player market, as clubs rush to cover their losses.

Foran also fills an important piece of the puzzle. He is keen to move back to Australia and closer to his children, and the Bulldogs are likely to be the most interested.

Meanwhile Canterbury, the Tigers and Cronulla now appear the most obvious suitors for Cronk.

What Cronk and Foran decide to do is likely to impact on the fate of Widdop, Canterbury's Josh Reynolds and Cronulla's Chad Townsend.

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