The scramble for off-contract talent is about to heat up – and Canterbury are expected to be big movers, writes Adrian Proszenko and Josh Rakic.

This is the shopping list every NRL chief executive and recruitment manager has been waiting to see.

A total of 171 players – worth a combined total of more than $21 million – are off contract at the end of the season as clubs scramble to bolster their rosters for 2012.

Included in the meat market are 30 Australian, New Zealand, England or PNG internationals and 23 stars with Origin experience in what is expected to be a frenzy of activity in coming months.

Darius Boyd, Matt Bowen, Justin Hodges, Trent Waterhouse, Adam Blair, Willie Tonga, Kade Snowden, Luke Douglas, Luke Bailey, Timana Tahu, John Sutton and Chris Sandow are just some of the big names up for grabs.

There has been little movement in the transfer market in recent times, with the majority of clubs keeping their powder dry while waiting for the coaching merry-go-round to come to a halt. But with Wayne Bennett announcing his decision to join Newcastle – and Michael Maguire yesterday confirmed as the man to replace John Lang at the Rabbitohs – the pace is sure to pick up.

There are also a number of players who are not on the official free-agent list but could move on from their clubs. The Sun-Herald understands that the Roosters would consider releasing representative forward Nate Myles should he get a long-term offer from a rival club. The tricolours are happy to accommodate the Maroons star for the final 18 months of his contract but would not begrudge him an opportunity to set himself up – and free up some salary-cap space – should he receive a better offer. Myles and his manager were sprung meeting with Gold Coast boss Michael Searle in Sydney on Thursday.

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The Bulldogs, with a dozen players coming off contract, will again be serious players in the transfer market. The first big move of 2011 came during the week when Jamal Idris signed a five-year deal to join the Gold Coast, freeing up plenty of salary-cap space for an assault on the playing stocks.

”As one of the other club CEOs – who will remain nameless – said to me during the week, ‘The only bad thing about you missing out on Jamal is that you’ve got money to spend … and none of us like it when you’ve got money to spend’,” Bulldogs boss Todd Greenberg said.

Greenberg said that it was a delicate balancing act between recruiting and retaining talent.

”Many clubs are in similar positions at this stage of the year as we all look to maintain our rosters but at the same time evolve as clubs,” he said.

”We need to recruit and retain the best possible players and with the application of the salary cap we need to keep a daily watch on this part of our program. It’s so fundamental to our short- and long-term success.

”With some available money under the cap we will be looking for other available talent.”

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The Sun-Herald liaised with leading player managers to come up with estimates of what the available talent is worth on the open market. Some on the list are likely to soon come off it. Nathan Merritt has all but inked a three-year deal which will allow him to finish his career in Redfern, while Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley agreed to terms on an extension some time ago, although all major Knights announcements were put on hold until the club’s coaching and ownership issues were resolved.

While the superstars won’t struggle for a home, it is going to be a nervous wait for dozens of uncontracted fringe first-graders. One leading player agent said: ”Come Christmas time, there are going to be at least 50 blokes still on that list who would be prepared to take anything they can get – which will be next to nothing.

”They are the ones who are most squeezed by the salary cap and they are going to have very dicey futures because there just aren’t the same opportunities overseas for them as in previous years.”

There are also several stars plying their trade overseas interested in joining the NRL, including internationals Craig Gower and Matt King.

Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald