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.

4. Jamal Fogarty

While Chad Townsend had an excellent first season in Cowboys' colours, 2023 saw him hit the skids, unable to help the Cowboys back into the top eight.

His kicking game is still solid, but outside of that, he doesn't offer a great deal to the Cowboys.

North Queensland's great hope for the future is Tom Duffy, but it's a big risk putting such a high responsibility on an, as of yet, unproven rookie.

That may change in 2024, and it may have to as well with there being few halfbacks worth the Cowboys' time on the open market.

NRL Trial Match - Sea Eagles v Raiders

In fact, the only one they might find it worth making a play at is Jamal Fogarty, who has reportedly gone back and forth on whether he wants to stay in the nation's capital with the Canberra Raiders.

If he elects to leave, and given the lack of talent on the market, he could well sign a deal worth plenty, and if the Cowboys aren't sold on Duffy, then they must make a play for Fogarty.

In targetting a halfback, we are also assuming the Cowboys will win the race to re-sign Tom Dearden.