Israel Folau, Sam Williams and Corey Norman are set to be among the biggest beneficiaries of Johnathan Thurston’s decision to play out his career in North Queensland after turning his back on up to an extra $1 million to remain at the Cowboys.

Thurston was keenly sought by both Canterbury and Penrith but the 29-year-old playmaker knocked back lucrative offers from both clubs to sign a four-year $4 million deal with the Cowboys.

The decision leaves the Bulldogs and Panthers cashed up to target other players and both clubs have been linked with Williams – the Canberra halfback, who is off contract at the end of this season.

Parramatta, who have an extra $500,000 per season to spend following Raiders forward Josh Papalii’s decision to renege on a four-year deal with the Eels, are also understood to be interested in Williams, along with St George Illawarra.

The Eels have already tabled an offer to Norman, who has been shifted away from his preferred five-eighth position to fullback as Brisbane try to accommodate Scott Prince in the halves.

Penrith and the Dragons have also been linked to Norman, who is in talks with the Broncos about his future.

However, the Bulldogs may be the biggest movers in the transfer market following strong speculation that they are chasing Folau – the former NRL and AFL star now playing rugby union for the Warratahs.

Folau is close friends with Canterbury stars Krisnan Inu and Tony Williams and his possible return to the NRL next season was a topic of conversation at the Bulldogs season launch three weeks ago.

Canterbury officials are understood to have spoken with Thurston and his manager Sam Ayoub last week and the Test five-eighth admitted he had ”a few little doubts” before deciding to stick with the Cowboys.

”There’s no doubt it was the toughest decision I’ve had to make career wise,” Thurston said of his choice. ”There was a fair bit knocked back to remain in Townsville, to stay at this club and potentially finish my career here.”

His partner is expecting their first child in June.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.