Sea Eagles snare Bell as Souths continue to woo Orford and Ross

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Sea Eagles snare Bell as Souths continue to woo Orford and Ross
By Brad Walter
July 9, 2005

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Manly yesterday secured the services of Steve Bell but Melbourne teammate Matt Orford remains a chance of joining South Sydney and may be joined there by Queensland Origin prop Ben Ross.

Player agent George Mimis last night spoke to Melbourne officials about several players, including Orford and Ross, and the pair are expected to decide their futures next week.

Orford and Bell are close friends and are keen to play together, but the 29-year-old centre's decision to accept a three-year deal with the Sea Eagles doesn't mean the pair will be at the club next season.

Both had been strongly linked to Souths but Bell got cold feet and backed away from a deal, possibly because of the imminent signing of NSW five-eighth Braith Anasta by the Sydney Roosters and the possibility of Queensland forward Ashley Harrison leaving the Rabbitohs.

However, talks between Souths and Orford continue and the Rabbitohs are also interested in adding Ross and Storm back-rower Glen Turner to a forward pack bolstered yesterday by the signing of Roosters hooker Stuart Webb and North Queensland prop Jaiman Lowe.

AdvertisementAt a meeting with Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson in Brisbane on Wednesday, Mimis discussed the possibility of Orford, Ross and Turner joining Souths and further talks were held last night.

It is likely Souths will get all three or none at all, with Ross expected to sign with Cronulla if Orford stays in Melbourne or join the Storm if the City Origin halfback goes to Manly.

Despite re-signing hooker Shayne Dunley for a further two years, the Sea Eagles are adamant they can fit both Bell and Orford in their salary cap and replace the likes of Scott Donald, Terry Hill, Chad Randall, Steve Matai and Paul Stephenson. Donald has signed with Leeds, Hill is retiring and Matai is expected to join Canberra, while Randall - the son of former Sea Eagles great Terry - and Stephenson have not received offers to extend their contracts.

If Manly do snare Orford, captain Michael Monaghan is expected to be switched from halfback to hooker next year - although he has publicly stated he is not keen to do so.

However, Monaghan has said he does not plan to seek a release from the three-year deal he signed last month after a furore over the Sea Eagles' initial decision not to offer him a contract, a move that raised suspicions they had already signed Orford and sparked accusations of breaking anti-tampering rules.

Resigned to losing Orford, the Storm began negotiations with Ross last week after he was granted a release by Penrith, and the Maroons star will fly to Melbourne after tonight's match against Manly. It is believed the Victorian club cannot fit them both under its salary cap.

Turner and Melbourne captain Robbie Kearns are also off contract but may be squeezed out if the Storm sign either Orford or Ross after last week recruiting Maroons second-rower Michael Crocker from the Roosters.

Meanwhile, Bulldogs centre Jamaal Lolesi has shelved plans to return home to the Gold Coast and play for the new club in 2007 after yesterday signing a two-year deal with Wests Tigers.

Lolesi, a Southport junior, is understood to have had a one-year deal in place with English club Hull contingent on his signing with Gold Coast, but the Tigers' offer was superior and he will join Kiwis teammates Benji Marshall, Paul Whatuira, Dene Halatau and Bronson Harrison at the club.

In other news, Souths yesterday announced signing Webb and Lowe on two-year deals. Lowe, 22, is a former Junior Kangaroos representative, while 24-year-old Webb has established himself this season as a regular first-grader at the Roosters.

The Rabbitohs also announced contract extensions for prop Scott Geddes, second-rower Luke Stuart and promising juniors Beau Champion and Aaron Firman.

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