Orford Press release-storm

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First Grader
Melbourne Storm half-back Matt Orford has made the agonising decision to leave the Storm at the end of the season after accepting the offer of a four year contract at the Manly Sea Eagles from 2006.

After four months of on-going negotiations between Orford, Melbourne, Manly and South Sydney, the decision was finally made last night after a meeting between Storm CEO Brian Waldron and Orford's manager George Mimis.

Although disappointed with the decision, Waldron has no doubt the setback will in no way inhibit the direction the club is heading.

"Matthew informed us last night that he has taken a new deal to move to Manly for the next four years," said Waldron.

"We're very disappointed to lose him. He's been a great player for the club, he's still a very important player for the club.

"Having said that, as I've said many times, we've been preparing for Matt Orford to stay for three months and we've been preparing for Matt to go for three months.

"From the Storm's point of view, a couple of things have been said about the fact that Matt's going and we accept that as good a player as he is, this place has never been better.

"We believe we've got the best coach in the game. We only targeted two players in the pre-season. One was Michael Crocker, who after a short visit here, was very comfortable to join us for a number of reasons. The other was Ben Ross who also agreed to join us because he had great faith in our football ability and our team that actually sits fourth on the ladder and is in premiership contention this year, but for financial reasons we chose not to pursue Ben Ross.

"We will announce the signing of one of our Origin players on a four year deal in the next 24 hours. We've just recruited Ben Cross from Canberra, 27-year-old front rower.

"We obviously have the likes of King, Slater, Hoffman and a number of other players, Johnson, that we believe make the future very bright.

"We have the support of the state government which is fantastic. We have the support of the NRL, despite comments from certain CEO's in Sydney.

"Our future is very bright, and I believe that certainly there's a changing of the guard that's always going to take place when you're building for the future, and as disappointed as we are, the most important thing for when we come out of this room today is that not only do we have a game to win this weekend, but there's also a potential premiership there to be won."

Orford, although saddened at having to leave a club he has grown to love over the past five years, said being close to his family and setting himself up for life after football were the main reasons for his decision.

"Obviously one of the reasons was commercial, but I thought that life after football needed to be planned, and I think the options in Sydney are going to help me to do that," said Orford.

"Obviously having a family at the central coast gets me a bit closer, I've been away for five years. I grew up on the beaches up there so it's just a great opportunity for me to go back up there and plan for life after football."

As a result of the many factors associated with the toughest decision of his football life, the contract negotiations were prolonged longer than hoped for all parties.

"We were never in a position to make a decision, I think that's why it took a long time. There were so many factors to consider and it was never going to be easy. We're finally there now, it's been made and we'll move on," said Orford.

"The club and myself, we were up and down with the way things were going and we were both patient. They understood my reasons as to why I took as long as I did and I understood they had issues with salary cap. There have been no hard feelings; it's just the way things happen sometimes. Sometimes you can do them in two days and that's the way footy is."

There were times when it looked like Orford may have made the decision to stay, and there were other times when he was leaning towards a move to South Sydney.

"I was pretty close (to staying in Melbourne)," said Orford.

"My mindset had changed a few times over the course of these negotiations. Little things every day changed that's why it was so confusing at times. I just needed the last week to clear everything up that has happened over the last four months.

"It was close (signing with South Sydney), their offer was amazing so to speak, but I think their playing roster was a little bit of a concern. I think if there was a possibility of those guys moving to the central coast, it would definitely have been an option for me.

"Hands down I would have loved to have been a part of South Sydney, building those guys up from the bottom of the table and getting back into top eight contention. But at the end of the day I was only going to be one player, part of a team and I couldn't turn a side around by myself. Those guys had to recruit well and the decision to go to Manly was they had a great side in place already and great forward pack and that's why I went that way."

However, Orford refutes claims he has been disloyal to the club that gave him his chance to develop into one of the game's elite half-backs in the NRL.

"I don't think I've turned my back on the club," said Orford.

"I think it's just an opportunity that comes and I think you can't turn your back on these opportunities.

"The club's been great and I've learnt under a great coach and the guys down here are mates for life after this so I don't think there will be any bad blood and I haven't turned my back on anyone.

"I just think it's an opportunity and those guys and the coach and Melbourne understand that these chances don't just come along every day and to set my life up after football and to be close to my family again, they understand.

"I've played hard and I've done everything I can for this club to be successful. We've built the club to where it is today since I've been here so I've been a part of something great and I'm sure they're going to move forward.

"I've been as loyal as anyone. I've been here for five years; I've been off contract twice so I see myself not being a disloyal person whatsoever. I think the club's been great for me so there's no reason for me to do that."

Waldron understands this had nothing to do with loyalty and is supportive of Orford's decision.

"There's nothing disloyal in this at all," said Waldron.

"The people of Melbourne and the people in other markets have to understand this is the nature of the game. People get opportunities because of the rules to actually further themselves.

"We reckon we've got the best coach in the game. We reckon by 2008 we're going to have the best ground to play at, we're going to have a home ground that is rocking every home game we play.

"But Matt has to make a decision that is a long term decision for himself now. Whether he's made the right footy decision, time will tell, but he's comfortable with the decision and we support that."

Storm coach Craig Bellamy expressed his disappointment and that of the playing group of Orford's decision.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we're very disappointed that Ox won't be with us next year, but at the end of the day the players are very supportive of Matt, they always have been. He's been supportive of them," said Bellamy.

"They know that tough decisions are made some times and a lot of those players go through the same decision making processes at some stage as well. They know it hasn't been easy for him and I know it hasn't been easy for him.

"But at the end of the day, we're very disappointed I can understand his reason and I've got no problems with that.

"Matt and I have never had a problem and we aren't going to have a problem for the next six weeks and we'll work alongside each other to try and finish the season as strongly as we can."

Although Orford's announcement has left all at the club disappointed, he and the coaching staff are determined to send him off in the best possible way.

"I'd love to go with a bang," said Orford.

"I think that's been our mindset from day one. I think every club starts the year with that major goal (winning a premiership) and it will be a great memory to have."

"We've got six games to go and it's important for Ox, it's important for me, it's important for this club and it's important for all of the rest of the players. So we'll put the disappointment of this behind us and get on with it," said Bellamy.

With professionalism like that, the Storm may be able to give Orford and Bell the best send off possible.

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