Souths out, Titans join race to sign Jennings

MICHAEL CHAMMAS
Last updated 14:00 09/01/2013

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The Michael Jennings contract saga took another twist on Tuesday when one of his suitors pulled the pin on the bid to sign the 24-year-old and a new club joined the race.

Sydney Roosters are expected to have some competition for Jennings's signature over the coming days, with Gold Coast preparing to outbid the Bondi club after releasing centre Beau Champion to South Sydney.

The Rabbitohs, who showed great interest in Jennings before Christmas, have opted against offering the NSW Origin centre a lucrative deal to join the club this season in favour of bringing Champion back to his junior club. Champion, who was struggling with homesickness, was released from the final two years of his contract at the Titans, reuniting with the Rabbitohs and giving coach Michael Maguire the centre he had been trying to recruit in the off-season.

The rise in the salary cap to A$5.85 million, in combination with the release of Champion and Scott Prince, has provided the Titans with the funds to at least match the offer from the Roosters, believed to be worth $2million for four seasons.

The Roosters are threatening to pull out of the running for Jennings if negotiations remain at loggerheads for more than a week, with the club hell-bent on having the speedster training with the club before the pre-season trials begin in February.

The Titans boast one of the strongest forward packs in the competition with Nate Myles, Greg Bird and David Taylor at their disposal, however, they remain weak out wide.

While the Titans insist they will take a punt on the club's youth to fill the hole left by Champion's departure, Fairfax Media understands they are strongly considering a play for the Australian international, who still has three years remaining on his $600,000-a-season contract at the Panthers. ''Beau had a tough first year with us last season and after receiving an opportunity to return to Souths, we have elected to grant him a release,'' Titans chief executive David May said.

''While we were looking forward to seeing Beau attempt to return to his best form with us this year, we are happy that this decision is in everyone's best interest. We've got an exciting crop of young talent in the outside-backs for the future so whilst we lose Beau's experience, we are confident that we are well covered in this area.''

Champion, who began his career at Souths, left Melbourne to join the Titans last year, and played only nine games in an injury-plagued year for the NRL's newest club. He admitted he couldn't turn down the opportunity to again play for his beloved Souths.

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''I appreciate everything the people at the Titans and Storm have done for me over the past two years, and I think my time at both clubs have made me a better player and better person,'' Champion said.

''However, now that an opportunity has come up to rejoin Souths, I can't miss the chance to return to the club. I'm over the moon at having the opportunity to return to South Sydney, the club where my career began, the team which I supported as a kid, and the club which I've always dreamed of playing for.''

Meanwhile, the NSW Rugby League has extended invitations to several boom play-makers for an individual training session with three former Blues on Thursday afternoon. Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler and Trent Barrett will run their eye over and provide tips to the state's most promising young halves. Invitations were given to the Wests Tigers' Curtis Sironen, Jacob Miller, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses, Cronulla's Chad Townsend, St George Illawarra's Shannon Crook, Penrith's Toby Evans and Newcastle's Tyler Sullivan.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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