South Sydney have opened negotiations with Cody Walker in a bid to take the rising playmaker off the open market before the beginning of the NRL season.
Walker is tipped to be one of the stars of the Auckland Nines, where his speed and support play will be showcased in front of rival clubs in the abbreviated form of the game. The tournament is the perfect platform for the 25-year-old, who is off contract at the end of the year, to launch his first-grade career.
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A one-match suspension to five-eighth Luke Keary will likely give Walker his NRL debut in round one against the Roosters and a strong start to the season could result in him remaining in the top side. The long-term future of Keary, whose one-year deal expires at the end of the season, is unclear after he was involved in an argument with Russell Crowe that resulted in him leaving a training camp held at the Rabbitohs co-owner's Nana Glen property. While halfback Adam Reynolds is contracted until 2017, there is growing speculation he may be squeezed out of Redfern if he doesn't fire early.
The Rabbitohs are keen to do a deal with Walker before rival clubs get the chance to see him play.
"We're in talks at the moment," said Walker's manager, Kim Ingebrigtsen.
"It's a really big year for Cody, there could be an opportunity for him to show what he can do.
"He's keen to stay there if he's able to play regular first grade.
"You can see from Madge's [coach Michael Maguire's] recent comments that he's excited about his speed and the different avenue of attack he can offer.
"We're probably looking at a one-year deal and that's something the club appears comfortable with as well."
It's understood Penrith were interested in poaching Walker for the 2016 season before the Panthers signed outstanding Wests Tigers youngster Te Maire Martin. The dearth of quality halves on the open market will likely result in Walker's next contract doubling in value.
Walker missed the opening two months of the NSW Cup season but made an immediate impression when he debuted for North Sydney. The Bears were last at the time but Walker's inclusion sparked a turnaround that resulted in an unlikely finals appearance and earned him the foundation club's best and fairest and player's player awards.
The Nowra product would have made his NRL debut for Melbourne the season before but suffered an untimely injury when about to replace the Storm's playmakers during the State of Origin period.
Walker was named the Queensland Cup player of the year and top points scorer in 2013 while playing for Easts Tigers despite missing the opening nine matches through injury. He is one of several exciting players Souths have chosen in their Nines title defence.