Cameron Munster's decision to remain with the Melbourne Storm in favour of a switch to the incoming NRL expansion side the Dolphins has been labelled a 'monumental blow' to Wayne Bennett's side.
After months of publicly pursuing Munster, the 28-year-old ultimately rebuffed a four-year deal tabled by the Dolphins that was reportedly worth up to $5.6 million.
He'll instead stay at the Storm on a lower-paying four year deal, albeit one that will still see him earn roughly $1 million per season.
It was a bitterly disappointing outcome for Bennett and the Dolphins, who have aggressively pursued key players ahead of their NRL debut in 2023.
Several high-profile NRL reporters have since questioned whether Bennett is still the draw to players that he once was, questioning if the 72-year-old's 'aura' had diminished after taking the Dolphins job.
With 23 players signed to the team for next year, the club needs to recruit a further seven to fill out their list - but the miss on Munster could also equate to a miss on Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell, who has already said publicly he wasn't willing to be a 'second option' if the Dolphins didn't secure the Storm star.
Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss told SEN missing out on Munster could be a telling sign of Bennett's fading allure in the NRL.
“What does this say for the Dolphins and the aura of Wayne Bennett? Do you think Wayne Bennett has got anyone across the line where there was some kind of bidding war? My quick answer is no, he hasn’t," Voss said.
“The fact is, the aura of Wayne Bennett, it can’t be there because they haven’t won a bidding war… where Wayne Bennett was the deciding factor.”
The Daily Telegraph's Riccio described the failed signing as a 'monumental blow' for the Dolphins, while Greg Alexander concurred that Bennett had 'lost his aura'.
On Wednesday Munster told reporters he was still torn over the decision.
However, the star five-eighth let the Storm know he would be remaining in the Victorian capital before heading over to England for the World Cup.
This is a great re-signing for Melbourne … but a massive, massive blow for the Dolphins! https://t.co/WDwv748z1V
— Zac Bailey (@ZacBailey14) October 6, 2022
Dolphins in danger after missing out on Cameron Munster signing
Munster joins Harry Grant, Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Xavier Coates, Justin Olam and Christian Welch all signing long-term deals to stay at Storm until at least the end of the 2025 season.
"I love the Melbourne Storm and I am proud to be committing to the club for a further four years," Munster said.
"It is such an important decision for me, and in the end, Melbourne is where my heart is, Melbourne is where I want to play my footy, and Melbourne is the club I want to be a part of for the rest of my career.
"I've always wanted to be a one club player. Storm gave me the chance to play NRL and the club has become a second home for me since making my debut.
"Both (partner) Bianca and I have family back in Queensland but we are settled in Melbourne, we have a great support network and we look forward to growing our young family in the years to come."
Bennett said earlier in the year that the club would pursue Mitchell if he hits the free agency market in November, but many believe the 25-year-old is most likely to stay in South Sydney.
At the time, he said Munster was their 'priority signing', but that Mitchell would be on their radar if that fell through.
“Everybody knows we are chasing Cameron Munster and he is our priority; that hasn’t been finalised.
“Under the salary cap, we can’t afford Munster and another guy of similar value like Latrell.
“Munster is our priority signing, but if Latrell is available in November, I will be keen to talk to him.”
State of Origin forwards Jarrod Wallace, Felise Kaufusi and Tom Gilbert thus far headline Bennett's recruiting efforts, with Cowboys star Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow agreeing to a three-year-deal as well.
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