SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 03: Waqa Blake of the Eels breaks away to score a try during the round four NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the St George Illawarra Dragons at CommBank Stadium, on April 03, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Parramatta Eels' retention efforts might appear to be squarely on the future of star halfback Mitchell Moses, but other players could find themselves moving away from Sydney's west in the coming months.

Among them is outside back Waqa Blake, who has returned to the centres this season after impressing during a chunk of time on the wing last year.

A hard-running back, Blake's ability to find the tryline is unquestioned, and while he has a tendency to slip up in ball handling and defence at times, there is little doubt the Eels would love to keep him.

The problem is that they simply may not be able to as the salary cap bites down hard on the club following the re-signing of Dylan Brown, and slated re-signing of Moses, who is yet to make his decision, but is believed to be leaning towards the Eels ahead of the Wests Tigers, who have thrown significant cash at the star.

NRL Rd 6 - Raiders v Eels
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17: Mitchell Moses of the Eels offloads the ball during the round six NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium on April 17, 2021, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

According to Wide World of Sports, rival clubs are well aware of that and are now circling Blake, who is now an NRL veteran in his own right.

Moving to Parramatta in the middle of 2019, he has scored 28 tries in 72 games for the club, having previously scored 34 in 88 games for the Penrith Panthers between his 2015 debut and his move to Parramatta.

It means he has played 160 NRL games, and he has started the 2023 season strongly, running for an average of 111 metres per game across the first two of the year - that comes despite a pair of losses for the Eels to start the season against the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks.

It would be of little surprise to see rival clubs go after Blake or other players with experience in the same standard as Blake.

While there are still 147 players off-contract at the end of this season according to Zero Tackle data, as well as a bundle yet to take up player options, there aren't many who are 'must-haves' for clubs circling in the free agency market.

At wing and centre alone, the likes of Sione Katoa from the Cronulla Sharks, Jordan Rapana at the Canberra Raiders, the Sydney Roosters' Daniel Tupou, Peta Hiku out of the North Queensland Cowboys, Marcelo Montoya at the New Zealand Warriors, Tesi Niu at the Dolphins, and the Manly Sea Eagles' Brad Parker are the top established first-grade options who remain off-contract, leaving little in the way of depth for clubs desperate in the positions to chase.

It means Blake could become something of a hot commodity for some of those clubs, particularly already slated to lose a player, like the Newcastle Knights, who are set to lose Dominic Young to the Sydney Roosters.

The Eels themselves have plenty of depth in the outside backs, albeit not at centre, with Haze Dunster, Bailey Simonsson and Sean Russell (who is set to miss the season with injury) all fighting for a single position in the back five.

NRL Rd 1 - Eels v Titans
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 13: Sean Russell of the Eels looks on after scoring his second try during the round one NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Gold Coast Titans at CommBank Stadium, on March 13, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

That said, youngster Samuel Loizou is also off-contract, and the lack of options at centre could see the club fight hard to retain Blake, who, alongside Bryce Cartwright, is the only off-contract player with established first-grade status at the end of this season for Parramatta.

Wiremu Greig, Samuel Loizou and Mitch Rein are the only other players off-contract at the end of 2023 for Parramatta, while Moses is able to weigh up his future thanks to a player option in his favour for 2024.

Parramatta have already re-signed Dylan Brown, Will Penisini and Maika Sivo in recent times.