Wests Tigers are set to demand financial compensation to allow Benji Marshall to return to the NRL, with officials advising his manager they intended to enforce a clause in his release agreement prohibiting him from playing for a rival club before 2016.
While Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer said the joint venture was not in a position to take Marshall back and chairman Mike Bailey welcomed the prospect of the star playmaker playing against them because of the interest it would generate, Fairfax Media was told the club would seek "Ben Barba-type" compensation before he could sign elsewhere.
A number of NRL and Super League clubs are believed to have already expressed interest in Marshall after he and the Auckland Blues decided over Easter to call time on his short-lived rugby union career, and Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith suggested he would be a perfect fit for the Storm.
However, the Tigers may be an obstacle to him returning to the NRL and Fairfax Media was told that they would expect any club that wanted to sign him to come to them for permission to do so.
"We don't want to make it difficult for Benji but we took him at his word and obviously six months on things have changed," a Wests official said. "It is a Ben Barba-type situation."
Brisbane paid Canterbury $300,000 to release Barba from his contract this season but it is unlikely the Tigers could expect that sort of money as Marshall had already left and they say they can not accommodate him if he wanted to join them.
Marshall repeatedly said before his departure that he could not envisage playing against Wests Tigers, despite becoming disillusioned with the club over a contract dispute and seeking a release after 11 seasons as the face of the joint venture.
However, Bailey welcomed him back to the NRL and predicted Marshall's first match against the Tigers would generate great fan and media interest.
"We have no objections to where he turns up and I wish him well on a personal and professional level in terms of being involved in the game," Bailey said. "I don't think any of us on the board, or for that matter management or our supporters, would have too much opposition to Benji coming back to rugby league.
"He's been a great player, he's given great service over the years. As we wished him well last year, we again wish him well in terms of the career decision he has at the moment.
"He's been a great contributor and I feel disappointed he hasn't been able to match the level of competence he showed early in his career in the last season with us and what has happened overseas."
The terms of Marshall's release from the New Zealand Rugby Union are believed to have been finalised and a formal announcement and press conference, with Marshall and Blues coach John Kirwan, is scheduled for Wednesday at Eden Park.
The NRL is concioius of avoiding a repeat of the fiasco that caused Israel Folau to abandon a return to the game with Parramatta and sign with the Australian Rugby Union instead after securing a release from the AFL and GWS Giants in 2012 and have encouraged NRL clubs to come up with proposals to accommodate Marshall under the salary cap.
“Benji is a wonderful player and it would be great to see him back playing in the NRL,” said NRL chief operating officer, Jim Doyle, who has a relationship with Marshall through his previous role as the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League.
“The integrity of the salary cap is important and that must be taken into consideration but we would certainly consider any proposal from a club for Benji to return.”
Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said on Monday that the club would be interested in Marshall if they could find room for him under the cap, and Smith believes he would boost their attack.
"He is a similar style player to what Gareth Widdop was to our club," Smith said. "Any club at the moment who was looking for a half would look at Benji.
"I'd welcome the idea of Benji coming back as he is a wonderful footballer and a great asset to rugby league because a lot of young kids, boys and girls, mums and dads – they love Benji and turn up to matches to watch him play."