Storm shock: Munster eyes return to Queensland
Melbourne superstar Cameron Munster has revealed he is considering quitting the Storm to spearhead a proposed second Brisbane team under the NRL's expansion plans.
In a revelation that will rock the Storm's strategic vision for life after Cameron Smith, the Queensland Origin sensation says he will look to return home if the NRL introduces a 17th team to rival the Broncos in Brisbane.
ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys is expected to announce Queensland's fourth club in June or July and Munster confirmed his interest in being the first signing for a second Brisbane team in 2023.
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The potential loss of Munster would be a crippling blow for the Storm, who are looking to build a new dynasty around the Maroons maestro following the departures of Big Three champions Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
"If another Brisbane team comes in, I won't say no to going back home," Munster said.
"I do see myself moving to Queensland after football and if a second Brisbane team comes in, I could go back earlier than expected.
"I wouldn't say no to that (joining a second Brisbane team) … for sure."
The Sunday Mail can reveal the Brisbane Jets have identified Munster as their foundation captain and will pay him in excess of $1.2 million a season should they formally clinch an NRL licence.
Even if the NRL rejects the Jets as their preferred 17th team, rival bidders Redcliffe and Brisbane Firehawks are certain to target Munster to be the poster boy of Queensland's newest club.
Munster is the reigning Wally Lewis Medallist after engineering Queensland's 2-1 upset of the Blues in last year's Origin series and underlined why he is among the NRL's top five players with his starring role in the Storm's 26-18 defeat of Souths on Thursday night.
A second Brisbane team will need a marquee recruit to give the new club immediate credibility - and Munster ticks all the boxes.
The 26-year-old has developed into an Origin and Test player at the Storm, amassing 131 NRL games and helping Melbourne to two premierships in 2017 and last year's defeat of Penrith.
The Jets consortium will look to meet with Melbourne bosses to discuss a range of factors, including the possibility of an early release for Munster, who is contracted to the Storm until the end of 2023.
Melbourne are notorious for playing hardball on contract matters. A second Brisbane team may have to wait until the 2024 season to bring the Test five-eighth back to Queensland.
But the one certainty is Munster is weighing up a new NRL chapter in Brisbane.
Munster says he loves the Storm, who signed him as a 17-year-old, but he has struggled with personal family issues in the past 12 months. His partner's mother, who lived on the Sunshine Coast, died last month after a battle with cancer, while Munster's parents both have health issues.
The COVID crisis last year, which briefly saw Munster return to hometown Rockhampton to be with his family, opened his eyes to other considerations beyond football.
"It is definitely something I am looking at … is coming home to Queensland," he said.
"Look, if expansion never happened, I would finish my career at the Storm.
"I do love Melbourne and I would have no issues whatsoever being a one-club man for the Storm.
"But if the second Brisbane team sets the right culture and gets good people around the club, with a culture like the Storm, then I can't see why I wouldn't join them."
Brisbane Jets bid chief Nick Livermore said Munster would be the perfect recruit to lead a new expansionary era for the NRL.
He confirmed he would hold talks with Melbourne chiefs ahead of the NRL's proposed expansion-tender process, set for April, to discuss an exit strategy for the Queensland Origin ace.
"Cam Munster will be our No. 1 signing if we get the licence," Livermore said.
"The key for Cameron is working out when he is available to come home.
"We are aware that Cameron is contracted to the Storm until the end of 2023.
"We will conduct ourselves with total integrity and transparency.
"If Cameron did want to go home, which he has indicated, we would talk to the Storm first out of respect to Melbourne.
"Our priority right now is getting an NRL licence and if we can do that, then we will have to think about the composition of our squad.
"Munster is an NRL superstar. He is the difference between winning and losing Origin games and, as a Queensland kid, he would be the ideal ambassador for a second Brisbane team."
Melbourne football-operations chief Frank Ponissi vowed to do everything possible to keep Munster at the Storm for life.
"It's always a challenge for us, keeping our best talent," Ponissi said.
"When it comes to Queensland, Cam loves that Maroon jersey, that's the ultimate for him.
"A second Brisbane team will certainly open up a new competitor for every player, whether you are a Queenslander, a New South Welshman, or whatever you are.
"If a second Brisbane team comes in, there will be a 16th competitor to us and they will be looking for 30 players in their first year.
"We won't get too bogged down with it.
"We have a history of attracting Queensland talent at our club with three NRL teams in Queensland, so we won't worry about the threat of a fourth team."
Munster last year revealed he feared for the welfare of his mum Deborah and father Steve, who suffers from diabetes, during the COVID saga.
"Dad has had diabetes for a long time. He's been told he has a 10 per cent chance of living if he gets sick from coronavirus, so that's pretty scary for me," he said.
"Their health situation hits it home for me and I want to do what I can so that they can live on.
"If either one of them was to get coronavirus they would be in serious trouble.
"Being in Melbourne, I've been away from my family for a long time."
Originally published as Storm shock: Munster eyes return to Queensland