Cowboys freeze player contract talks
The North Queensland Cowboys are playing for their NRL futures after club powerbrokers put a freeze on re-signing players following two shocking seasons.
The Courier-Mail can reveal at least 10 Cowboys players are facing uncertain futures and must prove their worth on the paddock in 2020.
The Cowboys slumped to 14th spot on the NRL ladder last year after finishing 13th in 2018, Johnathan Thurston's nightmare final season.
The Cowboys have 11 players off-contract beyond this year and a further three (Jordan McLean, Ben Hampton and Corey Jensen) with options in their favour to remain at the club.
Of the 11 players, only 2015 premiership winger Kyle Feldt is likely to be a priority signing for North Queensland.
Watch the 2020 NRL Nines tournament LIVE & On-Demand on KAYO. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Club veterans Gavin Cooper and John Asiata, both premiership players, are among the group fighting to prove they are worthy of new deals as the Cowboys attempt to bounce back into title contention under coach Paul Green.
Cowboys football boss Peter Parr confirmed the club had put a hold on contract talks until the season was underway.
"You can't sugar-coat a bitter pill," he said.
"We've had two seasons where we've run closer to the bottom than the top.
"I would have thought it's more than fair that players have to play some footy before we start to begin negotiations over a new contract for them.
"Our desire at this club has always been to retain our players rather than recruit. Those players will be given first opportunity to put their best foot forward and play some decent footy. Contracts have a habit of looking after themselves.
"We won't be looking to do anything from a contract point of view until we've played some football."
The Cowboys have undergone a seismic shift in their playing roster since losing the 2017 NRL grand final.
Club legends Matt Scott and Thurston have departed over the past two years along with the likes of premiership players Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett, Lachlan Coote and Ethan Lowe.
A new generation is emerging, but the time has arrived for players like Shane Wright, Reuben Cotter and Mitch Dunn to prove they are long-term NRL players.
"There's no doubt we're in a transition stage, we have been for the last couple of years with so many experienced and great players leaving," Parr said.
"We've seen guys like Ben Hannant, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston, Scott Bolton and Matt Scott leave the club. Guys that have been superb for our club for a long time.
"Having said that, we've got a lot of confidence in some of the guys we've brought into the club and we're really happy with the development of some of our younger players.
"We're expecting to have a really competitive year."
North Queensland has high hopes for young forward Tom Gilbert, extending his contract until 2022 after he was crowned the Intrust Super Cup's rookie of the year in 2019.
The Cowboys last month extended young playmaker Jake Clifford's contract until the end of 2021 to alleviate the scrutiny on him.
"We felt it would be best for Jake if we alleviated some of the pressure on him," Parr said.
"He plays a difficult position and is only young. We thought that was best."
John Asiata, Gavin Cooper, Reuben Cotter, Mitch Dunn, Kyle Feldt, Frank Molo, Tom Opacic, Emry Pere, Dan Russell, Tukimihia Simpkins, Shane Wright.
*Jordan McLean, Ben Hampton and Corey Jensen have player options for 2021.