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Wests Tigers veteran Benji Marshall.

NRL clubs are preparing for 2021 on the assumption of top tier squads being reduced to 28 players as negotiations between NRL officials and the RLPA continue.

No definitive verdict on the salary cap or squad sizes for next season has been set by head office.

Newly-minted CEO Andrew Abdo indicated on Thursday that final figures will be confirmed in "coming weeks", by the end of the regular season by the latest.

But across the game clubs are planning roster contingencies based on squads dropping from the current 30-strong outfits by two, with Benji Marshall and Todd Payten both referencing a 28-man top tier when discussing the veteran half's future this week.

Such a prospect would see more than 30 players deemed of first grade calibre left in limbo.

Clubs are also anticipating a drop down from the current 3-6 development players, with two to four players per club expected for next year.

It's understood that ensuring existing development contracts held by players are honoured is a priority in 2021 planning.

"That is absolutely at the forefront of where we are spending our time and our energy," Abdo said on Thursday.

"We're in regular dialogue with the RLPA around our agreement with the players. We're in regular dialogue with the clubs around the club funding model and we're in regular dialogue with the states.

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"Obviously everyone is seeking clarity sooner rather than later. That is a real focus and a priority that the Commission has set for us.

"And we expect to have those finalised in the coming weeks, certainly hopefully before the end of our season."

The prospect of reduced top tier squads makes it harder for the likes of Marshall and fringe first-graders to shore up their futures next season.

One NRL coach told that carrying an extra half such as the Kiwi international is possible in a 30-man squad, but the prospect of a reduced number had quelled their interest in the outgoing Tigers icon.

"That will probably be his biggest hurdle, the fact each squad is getting smaller," Payten said when asked on Marshall's ability to find a new home in 2021 on Wednesday.

The fact the Tigers already have five players capable of playing in the halves contracted for next season saw them confront "the reality with our roster management" according to CEO Justin Pascoe – that a sixth playmaker could not be carried in a 28-man squad.

No room at Rabbitohs for Benji

Canberra meanwhile are understood to be making roster plans based on a 28-man top tier squad, leaving room for veterans Sia Soliola and Jordan Rapana, as well as rising hooker Tom Starling.

While Starling has had a two-year offer put to him by the Raiders, talks with Rapana and Soliola have been put on hold until a definitive salary cap figure is finalised.

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