The North Queensland Cowboys have more players coming off-contract at the end of the 2024 NRL season than most others as we approach November 1, and have a lot of work to do on the roster front.

While Todd Payten's troops from Townsville endured through a disappointing 2023 season in attempting to back up their 2022 and may be looking to hold out to see if 2024 starts any better.

But the issue that, as it stands, 16 players are abou to become free agents to negotiate with rivals, and a number of them - most namely Tom Dearden - will be targetted by opposition outfits.

While the Cowboys are confident of retaining Dearden, it's unclear who they want to retain out of the rest, and there could be some retirements inbound as well, further complicating matters.

In this series Zero Tackle are running the rule over all 17 of the NRL's clubs and what they will be looking to do from November 1.

Current squad for 2025
Reuben Cotter, Scott Drinkwater, Tom Duffy, Jack Gosiewski, Valentine Holmes, Luciano Leilua, Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai, Griffin Neame, Reece Robson, Murray Taulagi, Jason Taumalolo, Viliami Vailea

Current best 17 for 2025
1. Scott Drinkwater
2. Murray Taulagi
3. Valentine Holmes
4. Viliami Vailea
5. No player signed.
6. No player signed.
7. Tom Duffy
8. Griffin Neame
9. Reece Robson
10. Reuben Cotter
11. Jeremiah Nanai
12. Luciano Leilua
13. Jason Taumalolo
14. No player signed.
15. Jack Gosiewski
16. Heiulum Luki
17. No player signed.

Players off-contract at end of 2024
Emarly Bitungane, Tom Chester, Jake Clifford, Tom Dearden, Robert Derby, Kyle Feldt, Jake Granville, Coen Hess, Zac Laybutt, Sam McIntyre, Mia Pua'avase, Jamal Shibasaki, Wil Sullivan, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Chad Townsend, Semi Valemei

Here are five players available to negotiate on November 1 from outside of the club the Cowboys could target for 2025 and beyond.

3. Max King

The Cowboys are reasonably well stocked in the forwards for 2025, particularly on the edge where Heilum Luki, Luciano Leilua and Jeremiah Nanai are all already re-signed.

In the middle, Jason Taumalolo's never-ending contract continues, and Griffin Neame should continue to improve to cement a starting spot over the coming 12 months.

Reuben Cotter is also signed, while I expect youngster Jamal Shibasaki to break through into first grade shortly.

But that doesn't mean they don't need re-enforcements, and the solidness of Max King could speak to the Cowboys who struggled in defence last year.

While their middle third was solid enough at both ends of the park, Jordan McLean is likely to retire at the end of 2024, and his experience, and defensive effort will be tough to replace.

King, if he has proven anything, has a will to make tackles and put in for his teammates. That is the sort of attitude the Cowboys need, so don't be surprised if they make a play for the forward who can play at either lock or prop and would make a great option either off the bench or starting.