Mitchell Pearce is yet to reveal a decision about his playing future.
Mitchell Pearce is yet to reveal a decision about his playing future. DAVID MOIR

Race to recruit Pearce reduced to three clubs

RUGBY LEAGUE: Melbourne have exited the race for the prized signature of Mitchell Pearce after the club confirmed they will not be signing the NSW halfback due to salary cap constraints.

Just a week after Storm captain Cameron Smith declared the race for the No.7 jersey wide open, football manager Frank Ponissi declared the defending premiers have no space in the salary cap to continue their pursuit of the 238-game veteran.

The Storm are looking to replace the Roosters-bound Cooper Cronk in the key playmaking role.

They have youngster Brodie Croft waiting in the wings after a promising start to his NRL career but Smith admitted the prospect of an inexperienced halves pairing should be considered.

"We've got Brodie Croft there but he's played three first-grade games and we've got Cameron Munster playing six who is still relatively new to the position, he's had one full season,” Smith said.

Cameron Munster of the Storm during the NRL qualifying final between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels at AAMI park in Melbourne, Saturday September 9, 2017. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Cameron Munster shapes as a key figure for the Melbourne Storm. TRACEY NEARMY

"So we got two young kids there playing pretty critical positions for us, so I think you would be crazy not to have a look at the opportunity to get Mitchell Pearce's services for next year.”

The Storm's withdrawal leaves the Sharks, Knights and Manly as the remaining three clubs hoping to land the ex-Rooster for 2018.

It is believed Pearce met with Knights coach Nathan Brown on Friday but it still remains uncertain where he will be playing next season.

The Sea Eagles offloaded five-eighth Blake Green a week ago, adding fuel to speculation Manly is in the box seat for Pearce.

But the club denied Green's release was related to their pursuit of another playmaker.

Pearce's manager Steve Gillis said Pearce could make his decision within the week.