PARRAMATTA have targeted Matt Orford to play halfback while they wait for Quade Cooper or Cooper Cronk to become available - but the Eels face stiff competition from Canberra for the services of the former Manly captain.
Orford, 32, who has been playing in England, is understood to have met last week with Parramatta chief executive Paul Osborne and coach Daniel Anderson. Anderson said the Eels lacked a top-line playmaker after they bowed out of play-off contention. Eels officials made a strong bid to lure Cooper from rugby union after attempts to persuade Cronk to move north after the Storm salary-cap scandal failed, but they have again fallen short.
Cooper, the player considered most likely to help the Wallabies to World Cup success next year, is expected to announce today that he is staying in rugby union for a further two years. It is understood the opportunity of playing in a World Cup convinced Cooper to stay, and his decision was helped by the fact the Australian Rugby Union significantly increased their offer after initially being stunned by the deal tabled by Parramatta.
Matt Orford in action for the Bradford Bulls. Photo: Getty Images
Cooper, who receives a total of $260,000 a year from the Queensland Reds and the ARU, is believed to be guaranteed about $600,000 under the new deal, as well as match payments for Tests and Super 15.
The deal is still short of the $3.2 million, four-year offer the Eels are believed to have been prepared to make, but if Cooper stars at the World Cup he might be even more valuable when his new two-year contract with the ARU expires in 2013.
The 22-year-old New Zealand-born five-eighth has indicated several times that he eventually wants to try his hand at league after growing up playing both codes and the Eels are likely to still be interested when he comes off contract again.
Cronk is also off contract at the Storm in 2013 and Parramatta officials are again likely to make a bid for the Melbourne halfback.
Meanwhile, the Eels believe Orford could fill the void and Osborne and Anderson met with him last week.
However, the Raiders are also keen and have been in talks with the former Manly premiership winner since learning he wanted to return from England if he can get a two-year deal in the NRL.
Orford is understood to have recently visited Canberra and toured the Raiders facilities at Bruce, where the Australian Institute of Sport is.
Sources in England say Orford was impressed by the set-up, and there is speculation he has agreed to a deal with the Raiders. But Orford remains under contract to Bradford, and the Bulls are reluctant to release him unless an NRL club is prepared to pay a transfer fee similar to the £100,000 ($166,000) they got from South Sydney for Sam Burgess.
Leeds are also seeking a £100,000 release fee for Kiwis international Greg Eastwood, who wants to return to the NRL and has been linked with Canterbury. Eastwood is good friends with Penrith second-rower turned Bulldog Frank Pritchard.