The Rugby League World Cup has attracted even more cashed up scouts from the UK Super League clubs to Australia, all of whom have one eye on the action and the other on a $5 million hitlist of NRL talent.
Representatives from no less than nine Super League outfits have met with NRL player agents over the past fortnight to discuss their targets for next season and beyond.
And according to leading managers, the poaching strategy has switched from “quantity to quality” in the wake of overseas quotas dropping to just five imports.
With the same amount of cash to splash and less players available, English CEOs and coaches have set their sights on the very best off-contract talent for 2010.
Premium stars Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt and Robbie Farah are all expected to field huge offers, with the Australian skipper already understood to be in the sights of glamour club Wigan.
Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan and coach Brian Noble have been in Sydney with a host of Super League counterparts including Gary Hetherington (Leeds), Steve O’Connor (Widnes) and Neil Hudgell (Hull).
Player agent David Riolo – who has Aussie Test trio Hunt, Ryan Hoffman and David Williams off-contract this season – confirmed the intentions of the British.
“I’ve had four or five meetings and they definitely seemed to have turned their attention to quality,” Riolo said.
“The names mentioned to me were top players like Lockyer, Thurston, Prince and Hunt.
“They are looking to go bigger than ever because of the reduced quotas for Australian players.
“If every UK club does that then it’s a dangerous thing for the NRL.”
Fellow agent Sam Ayoub – who is negotiating for Farah – agreed.
“I’ll be meeting a few of the clubs in the next week,” he said.
“They aren’t here for a holiday – there’s even greater demand for elite players this time around.”
Speaking during a harbour cruiseÂ on Wednesday,Â Hetherington said he was on the lookout for a centre and winger to bolster the Leeds roster.
“We’ve got a track record of getting some very good Australian players – Danny Buderus and Greg Eastwood will be with us next year,” he said.
“It’s now about quality rather than quantity – we are definitely on the lookout for outstanding, world-class players.”
Suspended Shark Greg Bird also shapes as a wildcard for the UK raiders, with his future at Cronulla uncertain for next season. It is understood the NRL will deregister Bird if he is sacked by the Sharks.