Up to 180 off-contract NRL players could be asked to wait until mid-July before they are able to start negotiating their futures beyond the end of 2020.
With the coronavirus outbreak plunging the sport into uncertainty, contract talks have been put on hold for players and their clubs for the 2021 season.
The NRL is yet to consider if the salary cap will be dropped for next season and beyond, with the figure originally scheduled to rise to a record high of $9.9 million in 2021.
However, lost television revenues for 2020 will likely put that in doubt, with clubs also expected to be reeling out of a season with limited-to-no gate takings and leagues clubs also shut down.
David Fifita, Latrell Mitchell, Jake Friend and Anthony Milford headline the 181 players off contract, with veterans Cameron Smith and Benji Marshall’s futures also up in the air.
Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton said players would remain in the current holding pattern until either the 2020 season restarted or it was officially abandoned due to the coronavirus.
And it would only be at that point that negotiations would continue, given a clearer picture would be presented for 2021 and beyond.
“From about mid-July we’re going to have a definitive date on whether or not we’re going to be able to play by September,” Newton said.
“So then it’s about working through the different things we will need to discuss and negotiate with the NRL and any material change.
“Then it will be a reactivation of away you go clubs because we’re not playing this year, this what you’re going to have to deal with or work with for next year.
“And then put some things in place if there are any possibilities of a salary cap reduction.
“(Or it could be) the moment we get back. It’s the earlier of. If you go back to playing, it’s let’s go, you’re right to start renegotiating.”
The current situation is a throwback to the early days of the century, where players could not negotiate with rival clubs until after the June 30 deadline.
But even then players could still sign extensions at their own clubs, a practice the game has put on hold during the coronavirus break.
Other coronavirus changes mean clubs no longer need to fill their 30-man roster for 2020 if the competition does not restart, with most sides currently sitting at 29 players.
Canterbury will therefore be able to save money by not replacing the axed Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera in their roster.
Meanwhile, this off-season now shapes as one of the busiest in decades.
If the competition does restart and runs into December, some players will not begin their 2021 pre-season until February.
That would mean those joining new clubs would not link up with their next 2021 teammates until a month before next year’s competition starts.
Jai Arrow and Tyson Frizell are among the few players to have already confirmed moves for next year, with Arrow headed to South Sydney and Frizell bound for Newcastle.
It comes after players on Thursday agreed to go without pay for the final five months of their 2020 deals, meaning an effective 71 per cent cut on their remaining salaries.