North Queensland will ramp up extension talks with Scott Drinkwater after the off-contract playmaker has fielded interest from several rival clubs, including the Warriors.
NRL.com understands Drinkwater has landed on the Warriors' radar as a potential fullback option for 2022 once captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck moves to rugby union.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten declined to comment on Drinkwater's future when contacted on Friday.
But it is understood Drinkwater remains a part of Payten's long-term plans leading into further negotiations next week.
The 23-year-old speedster grew up playing in the halves and returned to five-eighth last year, finishing with an impressive 19 try-assists to be ranked fifth in the Telstra Premiership in another difficult campaign for the Cowboys.
By his own admission, Drinkwater's defence in the front-line led to him being targeted by opposition attacks, his 56 missed tackles last year (3.5 per game) ranking as the most by any Cowboy and 16th in the competition.
The No.6 jersey alongside captain Michael Morgan in the halves looms again in 2021, as well as the chance to nail it down long term given Jake Clifford is Newcastle-bound at the end of the year.
Drinkwater's development since arriving from Melbourne midway through 2019 has caught the eye of NRL rivals as well though, with two Sydney-based clubs also expressing initial interest in the Central Coast product.
The Warriors have the best part of $1 million and time on their side sourcing Tuivasa-Sheck's replacement with his rugby pursuit flagged 12 months in advance.
Dragons custodian Matt Dufty is another off-contract option for them, having seriously entertained a shift to New Zealand when they pursued him in 2016.
Dufty labelled St George Illawarra's silence on his future last month as "disappointing", with the club holding fire on negotiations as he and Cody Ramsey battle for the No.1 jersey.
Drinkwater has played half of his 27 NRL games at fullback for the Storm and Cowboys, but has preference is to play in the halves.
As well as external options in the player market, the Warriors also have highly rated youngsters pushing through their ranks in Paul Turner and Rocco Berry.
Speaking last week after Tuivasa-Sheck's seismic code-switch was confirmed, coach Nathan Brown said their performances with new feeder club Redcliffe would help steer the Warriors recruitment process.
"With where our squad is in the shorter term, the reality is we may have to look outward," Brown said.
Drinkwater claims player of the tournament at NRL Nines
"Longer term there may be someone inward, we just have to wait and see.
"We have some very good younger outside backs coming through. Whether our younger ones will be ready is probably too early to judge given they missed all of a season of football last year.
"A lot of our younger players will be playing in the Queensland Cup so we will get a good indication of where they are at."
Cowboys in 2021
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