THEY were supposed to be ripped apart after dual premiership-winning coach Des Hasler's defection to the Bulldogs, but Manly are about to secure another of their stars.
Centre Steve Matai is set to sign a new three-year deal with the premiers, and the announcement is expected to be made next week. That will come on top of the long-term retention of halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.
Matai's manager, Gavin Orr, yesterday revealed his client had all but decided to pledge his future to the Sea Eagles, despite significant interest from Cronulla.
''We've had on-going talks with Manly, and it looks like he's going to stay there,'' Orr said. ''All the indications are that they've been able to get close to what Cronulla are offering, so there's probably not a big enough difference for him to change clubs.
''[Sharks coach] Shane Flanagan has been very good in all the negotiations. Steve likes him, he likes the players and he likes the way they play - but his first priority was always to stay.''
That will mean three key members of the Sea Eagles' premiership-winning side will have re-signed in the space of weeks. Fullback Brett Stewart is expected to follow, too, while Tony Williams is also believed to have told teammates he will be staying at the club.
Matai had been chased hardest by the Sharks, but there had also been interest in him from Souths, St George Illawarra, the Warriors and Penrith. Orr had told the Warriors early in the process that Matai wanted to stay in Sydney, which explains why that club turned their attention to Melbourne's Queensland centre Dane Nielsen.
The development will be a boost for the Sea Eagles before tonight's clash with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. The club's season so far has been dominated by speculation surrounding the future of several stars, but the Sea Eagles are gradually tying up their players.
Only hooker Matt Ballin appears to be heading elsewhere at the end of the season; Canberra are understood to be ready to make a play for him.
On the field, too, the Sea Eagles' prospects are looking better now than they were earlier in the season. Against second-placed Brisbane tonight, the Sea Eagles will try to win a third consecutive match for the first time this season.
''This year we've been a bit hot and cold - win one, lost one,'' coach Geoff Toovey said yesterday. ''We want to win a couple in a row and really cement ourselves in that top eight. To do that, you have to beat quality sides like Brisbane. If we can get on a bit of a roll leading into the State of Origin, that would be great for us.''
That Origin period, though, is looming as a potential stumbling block. Glenn and Brett Stewart, Anthony Watmough, Cherry-Evans and Williams are expected to be selected for the first encounter, in Melbourne on May 23, while Jamie Buhrer is another possibility.
Fortunately, the Sea Eagles should have New Zealand representative Foran back for Sunday week's clash with Sydney Roosters. Toovey said yesterday that Foran's hamstring would not be risked tonight against the Broncos, despite the importance of the clash.
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