Cowboys dynamo Scott Drinkwater will use a perform-or-perish directive to play his way to a new contract and a permanent halves spot amid North Queensland's multi-million-dollar roster overhaul.
Drinkwater is one of 10 off-contract Cowboys playing for their futures beyond 2021 after Michael Morgan's retirement and the releases of Josh McGuire (Dragons) and Wiremu Greig (Eels) free up significant salary cap space in Townsville.
NRL.com understands club scouts have registered interest in Melbourne's Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes, who are managed by the same agent, as well as Rabbitohs No.7 Adam Reynolds and Broncos teen Tom Dearden.
Drinkwater meanwhile has had his own preliminary extension talks put on hold since the start of the season, when rival clubs including the Warriors flagged initial interest in him.
He is mindful of the changes afoot under new coach Todd Payten, especially given the uncertainty at the scrumbase given Morgan's exit and Jake Clifford's move to Newcastle leaves North Queensland exploring the market for a top line playmaker.
"I want to stay here so I've got to keep impressing week-in and week-out," Drinkwater told NRL.com.
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"I think it's a case of getting some good footy under my belt. I think the club wants to see how I play and how I progress this year before moving on those talks.
"They've got a couple of big decisions to make with positions, the new coach is probably going to want to bring in new players, make it his own roster.
"You don't want to sign a contract and get lazy with it anyway. I want to keep moving forward as a player.
"If you're off-contract and you want another one it can get you playing a bit harder so that's the approach I'm taking."
Drinkwater helped further his contract cause in last week's upset win of Wests Tigers, carving up Leichhardt with two first-half try-assists and a four-pointer of his own.
However the defensive frailties that have kept the Cowboys concerned for some time did resurface during the Tigers' comeback.
To his credit, Drinkwater has never shied away from that weakness in his game and will once again square up on the left edge against Canterbury.
The Central Coast product has split his 32 NRL games with 16 games played in the halves and 16 at fullback.
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Drinkwater made it clear after the breakthrough Tigers win that he wants to remain in the front line from here out, regardless of what happens on the club's recruitment front.
"I want to stay in the halves, especially if Val [Holmes] is at fullback," he said.
"He's a damaging ball-runner, he takes the line on and I think it suits both of us. The longer we can play together the better than combo goes with a bit of instinctive footy.
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"You could say losing Morgo we need a senior half. But Benny Hampton handled that organising role well [against the Tigers].
"I can't control much of what we do beyond my role, playing eyes-up, taking short sides and swinging to the open side.
"As much as I wanted to play in the halves I didn't do much there in the pre-season. My mindset wasn't focused on that, it was on fullback.
"In saying that I've played there my whole life and a fair bit of my NRL career too. I wasn't too fazed, it was just some new combinations out there on the edges and a new defensive system that I think suits me.
"There's still a lot of work to do in defence there, a couple of tries were from my missed tackles but it's a decent start."
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