Race is on for NRL's most wanted
The race to secure the most valuable talent beyond the 2015 season has already begun in earnest despite the supposed post-November 1 negotiating period not yet being reached.
With the gates due to open on Saturday, NRL.com spoke to a number of accredited player managers to gauge their thoughts on the men most in demand and who will dominate the player transfer market over the next 12 months.
With each manager we spoke with, however, there was one message that was crystal clear: The wheeling and dealing has already well and truly begun.
A class of the league's elder statesmen, led by household names such as Billy Slater, Paul Gallen, Nate Myles, Kurt Gidley and Sam Thaiday, will be keen on a final pay day as the sun sets over their decorated NRL careers.
Then there's the cascade of current franchise faces about to cash in on the biggest contract of their careers, including blue-chip investments such as Manly pair Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, the kind of double act that would send the calculator of Manly's new boss Joe Kelly into a brain freeze.
In Kelly's favour though is a playmaker's market chock-full of spiral-throwing and 40-20 kicking ability, a more than adequate second tier of orchestrators that include State of Origin hero Trent Hodkinson, premiership-winning pair Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds and one who's completed the rugby league double in Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.
One player manager who spoke with NRL.com said that the decisions made by the likes of Cherry-Evans and Foran will create a "domino effect" as clubs who are in the market for top-class halves prioritise their targets, leaving the likes of Aidan Sezer, Chris Sandow and Robert Lui to wait in contract limbo as to what their market value may be worth.
"They'll move the market in a massive way but I'd be surprised if their decisions weren't done and dusted by the start of the season," he said of the Manly duo's power at the negotiating table.
But if that group of cheeky scrum-feeders doesn't send you into sixes and sevens, then try this list of next generation stars that, thanks to an off-contract stud like Sione Mata'utia can start thinking of what to do with all these new-coloured bills.
Joining the youngest ever Kangaroo at the negotiating table for new deals include Sezer, Konrad Hurrell, Tim Simona, Alex Johnston, Thomas Burgess, Aidan Guerra, Tyrone Peachey, Jason Taumalolo, Dane Gagai, Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
It will lead to a flurry of activity throughout the NRL but leading player manager Steve Gillis from GS Sports Management said that more often than not the likelihood is that players will remain loyal to their current clubs.
"Clubs generally will try and retain their incumbent stars before looking for fresh talent and this will be the case next season. Talks with these type of blue chip players have either already commenced or will commence shortly," Gillis said.
The off-contract class of 2015 will be of most importance to those coaches in the first year at their respective clubs. Experienced coaches like Wayne Bennett and Neil Henry can throw their weight around the negotiating table while the likes of Jason Taylor and Paul McGregor will be eager to stamp their personalities on their playing roster in search of success.
"The market will spike by about Round 8 next year when teams start to struggle and their rosters show signs of lacking the firepower to win a comp," Gillis continued.
"Last year we had two coaches sacked mid-season (Matt Elliott from the Warriors and Steve Price from the Dragons) and another three (Michael Potter, Anthony Griffin and John Cartwright) told their services would not be retained beyond the season. Recruitment and success go hand in hand. It's cut-throat, it's fast and it's furious.
"Wayne Bennett, Jason Taylor and Rick Stone are all new in their respective clubs so there is every chance they will want to tinker with the rosters they have inherited. They would be planning ahead right now.
"Every club and their recruitment staff already know exactly what it has to spend for the 2016 season and some big decisions on their future rosters will be made sooner rather than later."
If they're smart – which, given they're one of 16 career coaches holding the clipboard means they are – then they'll have already reserved their seat. As another player agent, Steve Deacon, says: "The November 1 date you are mentioning is like the Loch Ness Monster... it's a myth."
"Under the Player Contact and Remuneration Rules, 'Every Club is free to negotiate at any time with any player for the provision of his playing services with respect to any period commencing after the expiry of the Employment Term under his current NRL Playing Contract Player Agreement'."
Which means the clock struck 12 a long, long time ago.
TOP 10 PLAYERS OFF-CONTRACT AT THE END OF 2015
Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)
Billy Slater (Storm)
Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)
Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
Sam Thaiday (Broncos)
Michael Morgan (Cowboys)
Alex Johnston (Rabbitohs)
Trent Merrin (Dragons)
Luke Keary (Rabbitohs)