The NRL is about to experience a seismic change, with an unprecedented number of elite playmakers likely to retire by 2025, freeing up around $8 million in top-level talent. This could lead to the most intense player shuffle in years, sparking chaos for fans and possibly prompting them to delay buying new jerseys.
Prominent game-changers like Adam Reynolds, Daly Cherry-Evans, Ben Hunt, Cody Walker, Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran, Chad Townsend, Matt Moylan, and Luke Keary are reaching the end of their careers. Their departure will leave a void in the league, with a combined history of championship wins, World Cup participation, and State of Origin matches.
Fast approaching their mid-30s, none of these players possess contracts extending beyond the next two seasons. The question is, will there be enough capable halfbacks in the league to carry their torch? Unlikely, causing an inflation in the value of any young prospect with promise.
Teams are strategising their salary caps two or three years in advance to potentially fill these voids. Meanwhile, there is a stark shortage of quality halves available for the 2024 season. Teams may hold steady, utilising their current roster in 2024 while planning significant moves in 2025. Those teams who have secured emerging halfbacks on long-term contracts are in an enviable position.
The Sharks, despite some hitches in Nicho Hynes’ second season as a halfback, have high hopes. Just 78 NRL games into his career, Hynes, 27, might perfectly time his peak performance in line with the retirement of NRL elites, thereby, making his own mark in the league.
The Eels, forecasting their halfback requirements last year, evaluated the available halves for the coming three seasons. Seeing market potential, they locked in Dylan Brown until 2031 to keep him away from an imminent cutthroat transfer market. This move may prove tactical, given the likelihood that retiring halfbacks will leave a significant gap in the league, causing market frenzy.
Every emergent halfback will have their chance to shine. Consider 26-year-old Jack Cogger from the Penrith club. After a stint in the UK, he now has a three-year deal with Newcastle.
The Raiders, unable to find a direct replacement for Jack Wighton, have instead zeroed in on rising halfback Ethan Sanders. Getting the Parramatta halfback on board before the frantic halfback market takes off is truly a strategic coup by Canberra.
Similarly, the West Tigers‘ recruitment of NSW under-19s five-eighth Latu Fainu and their potential signee Jayden Sullivan suggests foresight. This strategy, while not necessarily paying off immediately, puts them in a strong position once the anticipated halfback shortage becomes a reality.