Rugby: $400,000 Dan to sign with Blues

By Gregor Paul, Dylan Cleaver

Crack first five-eighths Daniel Carter is set to shift to the Blues next year after a momentous offer said to be near $400,000 a year - the biggest offer in New Zealand professional rugby history.

Auckland, desperate to rebuild the Blues, have decided to buy success and believe Carter can mend the damaged franchise.

Carter, who held a media conference on Friday to announce his arrival back from his ill-fated "sabbatical" to France (he played just five games before rupturing his Achilles tendon), fended off questions about his rugby future, unclear because he is now off contract with Canterbury.

However, the Herald on Sunday understands that Carter has all but signed a huge contract offer from the Blues which will see him pair with another returned All Black, Luke McAlister, in the Queen City.

The offer of $400,000 is almost four times as much as most top All Blacks earn on their provincial contracts.

The Auckland rugby component of that is said to be about $250,000, while another $150,000 is thought to be coming from elsewhere, perhaps a private, third-party arrangement.

It is thought that initial approaches to Carter a few weeks ago were rebuffed until the money rocketed to never-before-seen levels. The strength of the package alone was such that Carter had to give it some thought.

Rumours of Carter moving north have surfaced regularly before - but he has always cited his ties to Canterbury as the deciding factor.

That could still be an issue and may yet stay Carter's hand. Canterbury were concerned enough to consider mounting a "mercy dash" by coach Todd Blackadder to Auckland last week to plead their case with Carter in a last-ditch attempt to stop the world's leading first five-eighths from shifting to the Blues.

In the end, Blackadder did not make the trip. The reasons are not known - but speculation is that they knew it was hopeless trying to persuade him to stay after the massive Auckland deal was put in front of the off-contract Carter.

It is understood Canterbury, desperate to retain their favourite son, have not yet been able to match the Auckland offer and are believed to have been able to find only about $200,000.

What they have in their favour, though, is a legacy franchise - Super 14 sides can't directly contract players - with a proven record of excellence. Carter has strong family ties to the region and spoke movingly about his attachment to the region.

"Christchurch is still my home and it is a place closest to my heart," he said. "I am living here in Auckland [he has a house in both cities] but Canterbury has given me so much when it comes to rugby.

"It wouldn't be easy," he said, asked if it would be hard to leave Canterbury. "I'm where I am now because of the opportunities they've given me."

This time, however, in addition to a record salary, Carter has other draws to Auckland.

His partner, New Zealand hockey player Honor Dillon, lives in Auckland and Carter said he was "kind of juggling" where he lives.

There is also the likely pairing with McAlister and Carter is also interested in the challenge of helping to repair the fortunes of the Blues Super 14 franchise which has slipped into mid-table mediocrity in recent years.

His All Black career is never going to be at risk as he is the country's most precious asset and will be until his contract expires in 2011. The Blues, despite their problems, are also a sleeping giant with a potentially explosive backline that could include Carter, Luke McAlister, Luke McAlister, Isaia Toeava, Joe Rokocoko and Anthony Tuitavake.

His departure has also apparently upset rugby bosses in Canterbury. Although no one would comment officially, it is understood that Canterbury officials are unhappy that, having gone out of their way to accommodate Carter's sabbatical in France, he has now chosen to leave.

Carter himself was saying little when asked which province or Super 14 team he would play for.

"I am off contract for Canterbury but I have not thought very much about it while in France," he said, after he returned from his much-publicised time at Perpignan. "I haven't talked to my management team about it yet."

Carter is still getting over his ruptured achilles tendon - he is four months into a six-month convalescence - and has set himself the goal of playing Air New Zealand Cup rugby in August, although the question of the colour of the jersey he will wear has yet to be settled. It could be that if he signs the Auckland offer, his first foray into New Zealand rugby will be in the famous blue and white.

However, he will definitely not be available for the All Blacks' Tri Nations campaign.

"I pretty much said that [the Tri Nations] was too early to play and that there was no way I could go straight into international rugby so I am looking at the Air New Zealand Cup as the first stage and I will take it from there."

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: PAUL LEWIS

- Herald on Sunday

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