The NRL's salary cap for next season could still end up rising from $9.2 million, with Rugby League Players Association chief Ian Prendergast declaring it was "jumping the gun" to think that figure was set in stone.
Edgy clubs, particularly those facing having to offload players, are keenly awaiting the finalisation of the cap for 2018 and Parramatta captain Tim Mannah said on Monday he could see the impact the uncertainty was having on Canterbury, one of the teams under cap pressure.
With 75 per cent of clubs having to tick off on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement there has been much discussion behind the scenes about where they stand on an indicative $9.2 million cap for next season, with those under cap stress pushing for that figure to be increased.
It is understood those clubs don't have the support for a significantly higher cap and Newcastle coach Nathan Brown made the position of the bottom-placed Knights clear at the weekend, calling on the NRL to ensure over-spending clubs, such as the Bulldogs and Raiders, are forced to shed players for next season.
The RLPA, however, issued a reminder on Monday that it had agreed to nothing when it came to the salary cap.
"The salary cap figure is yet to be agreed upon, with negotiations still ongoing to determine what that number will be," Prendergast said. "Therefore it's jumping the gun to speculate about the implications of a salary cap figure that is not yet finalised.
"We are determined to deliver a deal that is a win for fans, clubs and players, which can hopefully provide certainty to the industry over the coming weeks," he said.
Prendergast will resume talks with NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg this week intent on ramping up negotiations. The expectation is that Greenberg may then be in a position to have a more firm figure to take to a meeting of club chairmen and chief executives on Thursday week.
But if the cap does go up it stands to get a frosty reception from some clubs who have been operating around a $9.2 million ceiling in 2018. There are also concerns about what impact a higher bar for player payments might have on the ability of a cash-strapped NRL to provide clubs with a $3 million buffer above the cap in annual funding they have promised will average out at $13 millon a season over the five years of the CBA.
Parramatta captain Tim Mannah also weighed in on Monday about the forecast $9.2 million cap. "It's a bit presumptuous by the NRL to say that if they haven't got the green light from us as well," Mannah said.
Mannah said he felt for players at clubs like the Bulldogs who were facing having to offload players to be cap compliant for 2018. The Eels dominated Canterbury in a 20-4 victory last Thursday night.
"You would be a bit nervous. You can almost see that in the way they are playing – there is almost that nervous energy as well. The uncertainty of what is happening definitely plays on your mind as a player and I can imagine what they are going through as a team as well," Mannah said.
"I know if I was in their shoes as well, there is obviously the nervousness of what is going to happen, who misses out, do they cut people? There is a lot of the unknown. We're pretty fortunate at the club at the moment that we can go crazy with our cap. We have learnt some lessons in the past, some pretty hard lessons.
"There is a lot of pressure being put on players. I don't think a lot of people, especially the public, realise the amount of stress you carry as players in a situation like that. While it's all good for fans, who can point the finger and say they want better from their team and club, they have to realise there are some people going through some real stress in a situation like that. It's important that people understand that as well."
The Bulldogs' salary cap problems could be all but solved if Aaron Woods stayed at Wests Tigers instead of taking up a four-year deal at Belmore. As reported by Fairfax Media, Tigers officials are keeping a close eye on developments at Canterbury but Woods insists he intends to honour the contract.
"I haven't looked into it. I've committed and I've signed," Woods said. "It's up to the Dogs and what they want to do. So far, they haven't spoken to my manager or spoken to me about it either."