The North Queensland Cowboys have reportedly made substantial moves to retain star half Tom Dearden.

Dearden isn't off-contract until the end of 2024, but the Cowboys want to ensure he is locked away before the November 1 deadline, when players off-contract at the end of the following season can begin negotiations with rival clubs.

It's hardly a surprise that plenty of clubs would be interested in Dearden, with News Corp reporting that the Cowboys are worried about a poaching raid.

The lack of quality halves in the NRL has been plain to see this season, with a severe lack of talent remaining off-contract, despite a number of clubs still being without a first-choice half for 2024.

The Wests Tigers are the best example in the competition of that issue, with the joint-venture losing Luke Brooks and, as it stands, having no established halfback on their roster for 2024. There are no mainstay halfbacks remaining off-contract for next season.

The list of players coming off-contract at the end of next season is also light on in the halves given all of Moses Mbye, Ben Hunt and Cameron Munster as well as others have signed long-term deals this year to remain with their current clubs, or, in the case of Jack Wighton, play out of position elsehwere.

In what may come as a surprise though, the Cowboys are reportedly tabling a $2 million extension for Dearden which would tie him down to the club until the end of 2027. That comes out at almost $900,000 per season, while it's likely some sort of upgrade for 2024 would be included in the deal if he signs on in what could be an incentive to not test the market for the half.

Cowboys director of football Michael Luck confirmed to the publication that negotiations are underway with Dearden, who moved from his debut club the Brisbane Broncos to the Cowboys in the middle of the 2021 campaign.

The five-eighth, who made his debut for Billy Slater's Queensland Maroons State of Origin outfit last year, was a key part of North Queensland's surprise push to the preliminary finals last year, and he has been a large part of the resurgence in Todd Payten's side this season.

After a slow start to 2023, the Cowboys have marched up the NRL ladder and are now a better than average chance of playing finals football for the second year in a row.

His form has been outstanding in combination with halfback Chad Townsend, who himself was linked with a departure at the end of this year despite being contracted through next season with the Cowboys.