Storm to make Munster new poster boy
Melbourne are preparing to make Cameron Munster the face of their franchise in the post Big Three era despite a slew of interest from rival clubs and the star five-eighth delaying contract talks until the off-season.
Munster's rise as the NRL's form No.6 has resulted in the Storm's competitors lining up to talk turkey with the 23-year-old once the November 1 deadline passes and he can field formal offers.
Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan has gone public with his interest, in a NewsCorp report, in luring Munster back to Queensland, while the Cowboys and Roosters are also understood to have him in their sights once his Storm deal expires at the end of 2019.
But with Billy Slater's retirement freeing up a significant chunk of Melbourne's salary cap and Cameron Smith's career winding down, the Storm are hellbent on building their next generation around Munster.
With Craig Bellamy extending his tenure until at least the end of 2021 - a call Munster wanted clarity on before deciding on his own future – Melbourne are preparing a sizeable upgrade for Munster given he's tipped to attract offers around $1 million a season on the open market.
"He's indicated his strong preference is to stay with us, so as soon as the season is finished we'll hopefully sit down with him and his manager and work out a deal," Storm football manager Frank Ponissi told NRL.com.
"This will be a long-term deal and he will be a marquee player, he already is.
"We won't be looking at a one or two-year extension, we'll be hopefully tabling a long-term deal and that's why we'll wait until after the year to tackle a negotiation like that.
"He's a player in a pivotal position in the spine, he brings people through the gate. Whether he plays at six or goes back to one is up to Craig to decide next year.
"He's also matured enormously off the field and had a terrific season and we're confident of keeping him long-term."
While Munster's talent on the paddock has never been in doubt, his behaviour off it towards the end of Melbourne's 2017 championship season raised eyebrows, with the young pivot admitting to struggles with alcohol and "carrying on like a d---head".
By all reports he has made impressive strides in that regard since a heart-to-heart with Bellamy.
Ponissi said Munster's decision to put any contract talks on hold is "purely because he wants to focus on the finals", however the strike rate of the Roosters and North Queensland when it comes to marquee players has set tongues wagging.
Cooper Cronk's likely retirement at Bondi at the end of next season, as well as the impending shift of current Storm assistant Aaron O'Brien, provide both the salary cap room and a coaching link for the Tricolours to have a decent crack at Munster.
The Cowboys meanwhile hold an understandable lure given Munster hails from Rockhampton and they too will wield serious clout in the market as Paul Green reshapes an ageing roster.
Elsewhere at Melbourne the new deal for Sandor Earl first reported by NRL.com is close to being finalised, with a second-year option to be negotiated.
Papua New Guinean centre Justin Olam – who will play his second NRL game against the Titans this weekend – is also set to ink a new Storm contract in coming weeks.