NRL chief executives are set to discuss calls for a bigger salary cap and club grant next season at a meeting in Sydney on Wednesday in a move that may help to resolve the futures of Israel Folau and Brett Stewart.
Clubs were allocated $7 million in funding for the 2013 season, with $5 million to cover the salary cap and the rest to help meet costs associated with reaching targets announced in the game's strategic plan.
However, the Rugby League Players' Association has not agreed to the $5 million salary cap and is still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the NRL and clubs.
It is understood the association wants a salary cap of $6.5 million to be spread amongst the top 30 players at each club rather than the 25 currently included.
The association argues that most clubs use more than 25 players at NRL level each season so the cap should be expanded.
Any increase in the salary cap will eat further into the annual grant that clubs receive but it is understood there is a feeling among the clubs they will not be able to reach an equitable agreement with the association by sticking to a $5 million ceiling on player payments next season.
If the amount of the rise is big enough, it may help Manly to register Stewart's contract and Parramatta to sign Folau without the clubs having to offload players - but there are other motivations behind the push.
Until the parties agree on the size of next season's salary cap, they cannot set the amount for following years. As a result, both clubs and player agents say they are hamstrung in negotiations for 2014, with stars such as Johnathan Thurston, Robbie Farah and Mitchell Pearce free to talk to rival clubs but unsure how much the salary cap will be.
''It's just all guesswork at the moment,'' one agent said. ''No one really knows how much the salary cap is going to be. [NRL salary cap auditor] Ian Schubert told all the accredited agents at a meeting last week that the clubs were working on a salary cap of $5 million for next season but some of them are probably banking that it will be more.''
Schubert has refused to register the contract Stewart signed with Manly in August as he believes that would put the Sea Eagles $300,000 over the salary cap. There is speculation the club is looking to release Vic Mauro and David Williams or George Rose.
The Eels have also been told they would be $300,000 over the salary cap if they signed Folau, who asked for a release from the remaining two years of his AFL contract with Greater Western Sydney, worth $1.5 million a season, to return to the NRL. It is understood that Parramatta have $110,000 left to spend under the salary cap and are helping to negotiate several third-party deals for Folau but Schubert has valued him at $400,000.
Players' association chief executive David Garnsey said it was premature for Manly and Parramatta to be forced to release players when the salary cap had not been formally agreed upon.
''Perhaps what can be said is that they cannot currently be fit within the provisional 'cap' that the NRL clubs agreed between themselves earlier this year for consistency of contracting purposes until the actual salary cap was agreed,'' Garnsey said.
South Sydney forward Sam Burgess highlighted the frustration of players when he tweeted: ''Not only is there a salary cap but now players contracts can only be registered if it's deemed to be the correct amount. Small or big. Come on.''
- Sydney Morning Herald