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Manly's Ballin in Canberra crosshairs


Jon Tuxworth

The Canberra Raiders are considering making a play for classy Manly hooker Matt Ballin following speculation he may be forced out of Brookvale.

Ballin is off-contract with Manly at the end of the season, and severe salary cap pressure means the defending premier is struggling to retain him.

The Raiders privately believe they would be in the box seat to sign the 28-year-old should his negotiations with the Sea Eagles break down.

Off-contract representative stars Brett Stewart, Tony Williams and Steve Matai are believed to be Manly's main priorities, meaning Ballin, who is desperate to stay with the Sea Eagles, could be left out in the cold.

Second-rower Williams in particular will command a significant upgrade after making his Test debut for Australia in last year's Four Nations series.

Late last month, Manly re-signed New Zealand Test playmaker Kieran Foran to a rich deal that will keep him at the club until the end of 2015.

Earlier this year, it also upgraded the contact of reigning Dally M halfback of the year Daly Cherry-Evans, after it emerged he was on a paltry $85,000-a-year deal.

Most other clubs already boast an established quality hooker, meaning Canberra would be well placed to launch a bid for Ballin.

The Canberra Times understands the Raiders will monitor Ballin's situation with keen interest over the next three to four weeks.

Canberra has struggled to settle on a hooker since the retirement of former skipper Simon Woolford, who left the club to join the Dragons after the 2006 season.

The Raiders are happy with the rest of their spine - fullback Josh Dugan, halfback Josh McCrone and five-eighth Terry Campese - and believe Ballin could transform them into a premiership contender.

Ballin played one Origin match for Queensland in 2010 in place of an injured Cameron Smith, and is regarded as one of the top half dozen rakes in the game.

Due largely to injuries, the Raiders used a staggering four different players last year - Glen Buttriss, Travis Waddell, Michael Picker and Alan Tongue.

Should Ballin join the Green Machine, it is likely Waddell, whose contract expires at the end of this season, would be forced to find a new home.

The 22-year-old was given permission by the Raiders to negotiate with other clubs over the off-season, but was retained after he failed to attract a potential suitor.

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