The reign of Australia’s number-one tabloid newspaper editor, Peter Blunden of the Herald Sun, appears to be about to end.

Crikey understands that Blunden is set to move to a senior management role within News Limited’s Melbourne empire.

According to sources at the Herald-Sun’s Southbank headquarters in Melbourne, the leading candidate to replace Blunden is former Age editor Bruce Guthrie, who now runs The Weekend Australian’s weekly colour magazine. Other candidates mentioned in dispatches include John Trevorrow, currently the Herald Sun’s deputy editor.

Crikey was unable to contact Guthrie today and understands he is heading overseas on holiday. But if the suggestions are correct, his appointment would undoubtedly lift the stakes in the heated battle between the two Melbourne dailies; he could well lure high-level talent away from the disgruntled Age.

Over a successful decade at the helm of the Melbourne tabloid, Blunden has fashioned himself as a hard-working answer to legendary Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, running a tight ship and subjecting staff to regular bollockings.

A knockabout character, Blunden likes a drink and is said to have once thrown a punch at legendary New York Post editor Col Allen after a long day at the races.

He joined News Limited straight from school in the mid 1970s, following his father, a Daily Mirror journalist, into the company. He was founding editor of The Australian Magazine and a former editor of the Adelaide Advertiser.

A recent function to celebrate Blunden’s decade at the helm of the Herald Sun was attended by the Prime Minister, Treasurer Peter Costello, Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon, Premier Steve Bracks, and Lachlan Murdoch — reflecting the considerable power he has amassed.

The Herald Sun is the highest circulation daily in the country and is said to have the highest market penetration of any newspaper in the world, reaching as many as 40% of Victorian households.

We contacted Peter Blunden’s office today to ask him about the rumours but are yet to hear back.