If Israel Folau returns to the game that made him famous, this could be the moment the move was hatched.
The Wallabies star and his manager, Isaac Moses, were spotted in discussions with the NRL's head of football, Todd Greenberg, at the Azure Cafe at Allianz Stadium in Sydney yesterday.
The mid-morning meeting at the Moore Park precinct went for about 40 minutes, although Folau excused himself halfway through.
Greenberg made no secret of his desire to lure Folau to Canterbury when he was chief executive of the "Family Club".
The surprise catchup - held just one win shy of a historic home Super Rugby final for the Waratahs - suggested Greenberg still wanted Folau back in the 13-man code in his new role at Rugby League Central.
The development came amid suggestions another Wallaby star, Kurtley Beale, was almost a done-deal to switch to the Bulldogs at the end of the season. Beale, off contract at the end of the year, was also managed by Moses.
In another potential test of the revolutionary changes to next year's salary cap, which allowed NRL chief executive Dave Smith the discretion to centrally top up the contracts of "once in a generation" athletes, Gold Coast AFL player Karmichael Hunt had been courted by league clubs.
Hunt, a former Maroons and Kangaroos star who had also played professional rugby union, was also managed by the ID Elite Sports agency.
Head office was more a hindrance than a help the last time Folau was negotiating a return to rugby league. Parramatta almost got their man about 18 months ago, only for the process to be scuppered by red tape.
The former Greater Western Sydney Giant came onto the market at late notice after his failed AFL stint. The NRL's delays in rubber-stamping a heavily back-ended deal ultimately cost the code the signature of Folau, who subsequently became the best and most marketable commodity on the Australia Rugby Union's books.
League officials played down the significance of the meeting, saying it was a chance encounter. Greenberg said he mentioned his birthday when the pair crossed paths and the Minto product offered to buy him a coffee.
"Mr Greenberg ran into Israel Folau, who he knows well, while heading to the coffee shop and they had an unplanned catch up," a NRL spokesman said.
"It was not a business discussion."
But given Folau was accompanied by Moses, the latter spotted a long way from his agency's Homebush Bay headquarters, the meeting was likely to set off alarm bells in the corridors of the ARU.
In an interview last year, Greenberg said: "Putting my NRL hat on, I'd love to see Israel play rugby league. In my current role I'd like to see that happen at the Bulldogs. He would be wonderful playing rugby league again and the decision is his. We'll be doing everything we can to entice him here and to play our game, but that's his decision."
There are no shortages of league suitors should Folau come onto the open market. Parramatta were keen for another crack and hoped the presence of younger brother John in their squad could give them an edge.
The Roosters would also be in the hunt and would have some salary cap space available after the defection of Sonny Bill Williams back to rugby.
Melbourne, where Folau's professional career began, shaped as another potential destination.
While the cross-code star has previously played at Brisbane, a return to Red Hill was unlikely given Anthony Milford would join a star-studded backline that already boasted Ben Barba at fullback.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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