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Melbourne will attempt to become the first club to avail themselves of the NRL's new marquee contracting powers by attempting to bring Karmichael Hunt back to rugby league.
Hunt, with AFL club Gold Coast, is off contract at the end of the season. Storm powerbrokers met his management this week in the hope of luring the former Brisbane, Queensland and Australian custodian back to the game which made him famous.
Up until now, the NRL hasn't been able to compete financially with the AFL, where his annual salary is believed to be about $1 million after top ups from the AFL. However, the ARLC recently introduced a landmark change to the salary cap which will give CEO Dave Smith the power to personally intervene in order to retain or recruit marquee men in exceptional circumstances.
Karmichael Hunt's time at the Gold Coast Suns is coming to an end this year. Photo: Joe Armao
The NRL's chief operating officer, Jim Doyle, recently stated the new initiative will only apply to "once in every 10 years" players. While another code-hopper, Wallabies star Israel Folau, would qualify it remains to be seen whether Hunt fits that criteria. He has played 11 Tests and 10 Origins and also enjoyed a brief rugby stint for Biarritz Olympique before making the switch to the Suns.
Fairfax Media journalist Caroline Wilson has described Hunt's AFL stint as a "cynical dash for cash" and the 27-year-old has struggled to nail a first-team spot after injuries hampered him early in the season.
The Gold Coast Titans are on record as stating he is a player of interest, while a return to Red Hill is unlikely given the Broncos won the tug of war for the services of Canberra star Anthony Milford. But after missing out on Benji Marshall, the Storm see Hunt as turning the "big three" back into the "big four" should he line up alongside fellow Maroons Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
Karmichael Hunt is in the sights of the Melbourne Storm. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Ben Hampton has shown some promise in the No.6 jersey without cementing his spot and it's a role Hunt could fill, having worked on his kicking game in AFL. Storm coach Craig Bellamy also believes his ability to play a number of positions is a bonus.
Another plus for the Storm is Hunt's cousin, Hymel Hunt, joined the club this season after making his NRL debut for the Titans last year.
The Bulldogs are pleased with the form of Sam Perrett but remain open to the prospect of signing a star fullback recruit following the departure of Ben Barba. However, Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle said the NRL's new marquee top-up powers didn't necessarily mean they would rush into the market.
"If you had the right player, yes. But I think everyone has gotten a little bit excited about what a 'marquee player' might actually mean," Castle said. "You would probably be lucky to name five players that would fit into that category of being game-changing and having that profile from a commercial perspective.
"We would only go to the NRL and have that discussion if we felt a player there was a player who fit that criteria."