An international consortium has expressed an interest in buying the Melbourne Storm from News Ltd, but on one condition - that coach Craig Bellamy remains in charge of the premiers.
In yet another twist to the saga over Bellamy's future, it is understood the consortium - believed to be headed by an investor from Britain - is exploring the possibility of buying the Storm, but will not table an offer unless Bellamy re-signs.
Bellamy, who has taken Melbourne to five grand finals since 2006, comes off contract at the end of this season and is understood to be considering a massive offer from St George Illawarra. The Warriors also made an audacious bid for his services at the end of last season before appointing former Canberra and Penrith coach Matthew Elliott after realising Bellamy would not move to New Zealand.
However, the Dragons job appears to have more appeal as it could be weeks before Bellamy makes a decision. It understood that Bellamy is aware of the consortium's interest in buying the Storm and their insistence that he be the coach.
After handing control of the game to the newly formed ARL Commission last February, News Ltd said it would look to sell out of the Storm and the media company, which also owns the Brisbane Broncos, is understood to have received several approaches.
None were obviously considered suitable, but with Melbourne having overcome the 2010 salary cap scandal to win last year's premiership, the timing is unlikely to get much better for a sale.
As a condition of their departure from the game, News Ltd negotiated a six-year funding package totalling $26.5 million to help offset any losses incurred by the Storm.
Any buyer would be entitled to the remaining $20 million over the next five years. In addition, each of the 16 NRL clubs will receive $7 million this year and more in coming seasons from the game's new $1.025 billion television deal.
Storm chief executive Ron Gauci said the club would not be sold unless News Ltd was convinced its future was safe.
''We have said all along that when there is an appropriate buyer and it is the right time we would certainly look at it but our position hasn't changed,'' Gauci said.
''We would certainly consider any appropriate suitors but we want to make sure we protect the viability and the longevity of the club and it is an important decision that we need to make.
''When it is appropriate and we are engaged in the right conversation we will consider it but at this stage there isn't anything to tell.''
Asked about Bellamy's future, Gauci said: ''I am not going to comment on the negotiations with Craig suffice to say that it is an important decision for both parties and we would like Craig to be the coach.''
Bellamy's manager John Fordham said no time frame had been set for a decision to be made. ''It is still very much a work in progress and there is no timeline set. Still, we are working towards a decision in the near future,'' Fordham said.
Meanwhile, Bellamy will assist Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley against the NRL All Stars in the match on February 9 at Suncorp Stadium.
''I think it is really good that he is doing that stuff,'' Gauci said.
- Sydney Morning Herald