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Storm kick off Hughes extension talks after thwarting rival raids

Melbourne have kicked off extension talks with premiership-winning halfback Jahrome Hughes as the club continues to head off outside raids on their playing and football staff ranks.

The Storm fought retention battles on several fronts en route to the 2020 title, with the futures of Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy still the biggest long-term conundrums, and still yet to be clarified any further.

But with Josh Addo-Carr's release request to return to Sydney next season denied after consultation with the NSW Origin star, the Storm are now turning toward 2021 and beyond with more clarity.

Hughes shapes as the club's retention priority after his rapid rise at the scrumbase, piloting Melbourne to this year's premiership in just his first season as a first-choice halfback.

The 26-year-old's agent Chris Orr ruffled feathers in grand final week when he told Wide World of Sports that Hughes would "field plenty of interest", with the Warriors reportedly planning a bid for the Kiwi international.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Storm

Hughes can field official rival offers as he comes off contract in 2021.

The Storm though have begun negotiations around a healthily upgraded extension with Hughes, who is understood to have earned less than $400,000 this season.

Melbourne plan to kick off similar talks with NSW lock Dale Finucane once his Origin commitments finish next week.

Bellamy says 2020 title most likely his best

Off the paddock the Storm have also had a significant win over rivals Brisbane after recruitment chief Paul Bunn re-signed on a two-year deal.

Bunn has been the architect of the Storm's unrivalled list management for the past decade, with the Broncos understood to have sounded him out about a return to the club where he first cut his teeth as a talent scout.  

Storm chairman Matt Tripp lashed Brisbane as "embarrassing" earlier this year when details of their approach to Bellamy about a coaching director's role from 2022 were revealed.

The Bellamy pitch followed links to a Smith swansong at Red Hill and CEO Dave Donaghy being pursued to succeed Paul White at the Broncos.

Donaghy has since confirmed his departure from Melbourne, however a six-month non-compete clause in his contract prevents him from taking up a role with Brisbane until next winter.

White in turn has extended his Broncos tenure through to January.

As for Bellamy and Smith, a decision on the coach's post-2021 future is expected over the next few weeks after Bellamy was released from quarantine this week.

The Storm have outlined their own director of football role that Bellamy could perform from Queensland once he finishes as a head coach next year.

Smith and his agent still have not engaged in any extension talks with Melbourne, with the champion hooker expected to call time on his glittering career over a similar time frame to Bellamy.

The futures of Brandon Smith and Harry Grant are entwined with their captain's decision as Grant returns from his loan to the Tigers.

Elsewhere the Storm's final tweaks to their 2021 roster will revolve around their outside backs.

Storm's top five tries of 2020

As reported by last month, Bulldogs centre Reimis Smith has been signed on a two-year deal while Marion Seve has also been handed a train-and-trial contract.

Any further additions will be at the lower end of their top 30 roster now Addo-Carr has been locked in for next year.

Melbourne won't be back at pre-season training until January 4, with a return to their AAMI Park precinct on course provided there is no further spike in the city's COVID-19 situation.

Bellamy's infamous pre-season boot camp is however a likely casualty of the revamped summer given pandemic protocols and shortened 2021 lead-in.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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