Salary cap could hinder Dragons in 2013

St George Illawarra's bid for a stopgap play-maker in 2013 is likely to be hindered by salary cap uncertainty and a lack of available candidates.

Chief executive Peter Doust and coach Steve Price have both signalled their intention to "explore options" on the open market for next season, after confirmation of Kyle Stanley's season-ending knee injury last week.

Stanley's omission leaves the Dragons with only three genuine half options at present: premiership-winning five-eighth Jamie Soward, veteran halfback Nathan Fien and the untried Josh Drinkwater.

But the pursuit of a provisional No 7 could be undermined by several factors. Namely, that the Rugby League Players Association and the NRL are still in the midst of negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement (cba) for the next five years.

"Until there's some clarity with regards to the salary cap and the cba and knowing the playing surface or guidelines to which we've got to operate and negotiate a contract, you're mad to start negotiations," one player manager told the Mercury.

Earlier this month, the NRL tabled a $5.1 million salary cap for next season - an increase from $4.6 this year - with a $400,000 marquee player allowance.

But that offer is a far cry from that of the RLPA's original submission, which included a $6.5 million cap next season and a rise in the minimum wage from $55,000 to $80,000.

The Dragons' other problem is a shortage of available halves.

Even if the club does go down the line of trying to secure a replacement for one season - allowing players and managers to then bargain under a revised cap for 2014 - their pick of options will be limited.

On Friday, Price put to bed rumours of the club chasing Johnathan Thurston for 2014, telling the Mercury "I haven't spoken to his management".

Meanwhile, Mitchell Pearce and Daniel Mortimer, both signed with the Roosters for 2013, have been continually ruled out of contention.

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