JUST days after re-signing five-eighth Kieran Foran, Manly have received a further boost with NSW fullback favourite Brett Stewart agreeing to terms for a new three-year deal.
And there could be further good news for the NRL premiers, with the Herald told last night that Test stars Tony Williams and Steve Matai were also set to stay.
Since losing coach Des Hasler to Canterbury late last year, the Sea Eagles have been under enormous pressure to retain their star players but they have so far managed to keep Foran and halves partner Daly Cherry-Evans, while Stewart's re-signing is now a formality.
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After initially seeking a four-year, $2.4 million contract, the Herald understands Stewart has agreed in principle to a three-year deal thought to be worth about $1.5 million.
The former Test and Origin representative showed he was back to his best in last Friday night's 12-10 defeat of the Bulldogs, scoring a try and making two line breaks in a man of the match performance.
Despite three weeks on the sideline with a rib injury and his well-documented knee problems, he dispelled fears that he lost his acceleration, and is now poised to win the Blues No.1 jersey for Origin I in Melbourne on May 23.
Canberra fullback Josh Dugan, who was NSW coach Ricky Stuart's preference for Origin I last season, also returned from injury at the weekend but the Herald understands Stewart will get the nod for this year's series opener if he stays fit.
Stewart's brother Glenn is also considered a near certainty for the Blues after his impressive return from injury against the Bulldogs, and the fact he is signed to Manly for a further two years was a strong factor in Brett's decision to stay.
With Foran and Cherry-Evans also signing new three-year contracts, Manly now have three members of their ''spine'' tied up until the end of the 2015 season.
Hooker Matt Ballin is among seven other members of the premiership-winning team yet to resolve their futures, including Williams, Matai, props Brent Kite and Jason King and winger David Williams.
However, Manly have been in ongoing talks with most of their off-contract players, and after re-signing Foran on Saturday, they will table a formal offer for Matai today. The Kiwis Test centre, who was cleared by the match review committee yesterday over contact with referee Brett Suttor last Friday night, has attracted interest from three other clubs, including Cronulla, but the Herald was told he would stay.
Williams, who is serving a seven-match suspension for a dangerous throw, is also believed to have told friends that he intends to reject offers from Canterbury and Parramatta to remain at Manly next year.
The strike forward signed a one-year contract late last year with an option for another year in his favour.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/eagles-flying-high-as-stewart-stays-with-matai-williams-to-follow-suit-20120430-1xv3s.html#ixzz1tYl8FDLJ