SOME of the NRL's biggest names are set to reap the rewards of a possible $6 million salary cap when they come off contract next season.
With Luke Lewis and Brett Stewart the last of the big names still on the transfer market this year, clubs are already thinking ahead to 2013, when more than 180 players come off contract.
Among them are some of the game's biggest stars, including Australian five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, NSW halves pairing of Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney, South Sydney's Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess, Blues hooker Robbie Farah and Cowboys props Matt Scott and James Tamou.
Rival clubs are free to begin negotiations with those players from November 1, but some will resolve their futures before then, with negotiations already underway.
The key is the new broadcast deal, which is expected to be finalised either late August or September.
If the ARL Commission can match the $1.2 billion deal the AFL secured last year for its television and internet rights, the salary cap is expected to rise to $6 million or more in 2014.
Clubs are operating on a salary cap of $4.3 million for this year but have been told to sign players for the 2013 season on the basis the cap will increase to a minimum of $5 million.
The rise has helped the likes of Manly to retain star five-eighth Keiran Foran, centre Steve Matai and hooker Matt Ballin, while upgrading the contract of halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. The additional money has also helped ease potential cap problems for a number of clubs caused by backended contracts.
''In previous years the salary cap has only really gone up by about $100,000 per year and I am sure a number of clubs would have been in trouble if that had been the case again,'' one NRL club chief executive told the Herald. ''The biggest problem now would be if someone takes a gamble on how much the salary cap will be and it doesn't go up by the amount they are hoping.'
NRL clubs have been told to anticipate the 2013 salary cap will be at least $5 million but not to spend much more than that.
''It is a real juggling act at the moment because no-one can say how much the salary cap will be until the television deal is done,'' another club boss told the Herald.
''But the $500,000 player is going to become the $600,000 player. There is already a lot of talk going on in the background, we are well down the track with re-signing some players and it is actually trying to work out the finances of it all.
''You don't want to get to the stage of letting anyone else get involved and if the player doesn't want to sign before November 1, he is probably going to go elsewhere.''
Clubs were given a projection of future salary cap rises at last year's conference of club chairmen and chief executives.
Depending on the new television deal, the salary cap would be increased to:
$5.1 million (under a $1 billion TV deal);
$5.9 million ($1.2 billion), or;
$6.6 million ($1.4 billion).
Then NRL chief executive David Gallop said those figures were ''conservative'' and one club chief executive yesterday predicted the salary cap would rise to between $5.5 million and $6 million if the tv deal was worth $1 billion.
''If they can't get $1 billion for the TV rights they are kidding,'' he said. ''The ratings for the NRL are killing AFL - even the Toyota Cup. Some games outrate Super Rugby and the A-league, which is pretty good for a kids competition.
''I know the AFL always go on about their grand final and how it gets record ratings, which is fantastic, but we have got four games like that - three State of Origin games and our grand final.''
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