North Queensland playmaker Scott Drinkwater is understood to be on the radar of four rival clubs, with Canterbury named as one of the potential suitors keeping tabs on the Cowboys five-eighth.
As reported by The Daily Telegraph, Drinkwater's preference is to remain in Townsville as both parties continue talks in regards to a new deal, with the former Storm player not short on options.
The 23-year-old has developed into the No.6 jumper this season after starting the opening two rounds at fullback and now looks to be aiding the Cowboys' halves dilemma after flourishing in the club's first win of the season last weekend against Wests.
With Michael Morgan announcing his retirement earlier this month and halfback Jake Clifford heading to Newcastle as late as this season's conclusion, Drinkwater's worth to Payten has grown tenfold.
With his value to the Cowboys ascending, the off-contract half has seen a rise in interest for his signature from circling clubs.
Drinkwater's manager Chris Orr confirmed that he and the Cowboys have held extensive conversations for a new deal, while also revealing Sydney clubs remain in the hunt for his client.
“I have been in negotiations with the Cowboys for a few weeks and Drinky is a player they wish to keep,” Orr told The Daily Telegraph.
“Four clubs have expressed interest in ‘Drinky’, including a few from Sydney, but his preference is to stay at the Cowboys if we can work something out.
“He was very good against the Tigers last week so Drinky showed he can be a good option for the Cowboys in the halves, especially if he links with a game manager at halfback.
“Every team needs a balance within their halves combination. One needs to be a game manager and the other an X-factor and Drinky brings the X-factor to the team.”
The departure of forward Josh McGuire added to Morgan's retirement is sure to open up a war chest for Payten to spend for the 2022 season.
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Drinkwater is sure to soak up a percentage of that purse, while the Cowboys are looking to lure off-contract Rabbitohs captain Adam Reynolds to Queensland.
Reynolds is understood to be demanding close to $700,000-per-season on a multi-year deal.
Should North Queensland successfully pry Souths' premiership playmaker and retain Drinkwater, Payten will have his halves partnership locked away for the next few seasons.