Todd CarneyTROUBLED halfback Todd Carney appears destined to salvage his broken career with Super League powerhouse Wigan – but he has already been linked to a return to the NRL as a possible replacement for Manly captain Matt Orford.

It is understood that Carney is close to finalising a one-year deal to resume playing in England after being cut adrift by the Raiders earlier this month after a string of alcohol-fuelled incidents.

But there is increasing speculation he is already in the Sea Eagles’ sights beyond 2009 – although chief executive Grant Mayer denied last night he had discussed any move with Carney’s management.

“There’s no room for him [under the salary cap],” Mayer said. “If Todd wanted to come to Manly after 2009, it could only be as a second-tier player [on a minimum of $50,000]. After 2009, we have back-ended contracts that take up too much under the cap for us to sign a player who is worth $400,000 a year … Todd Carney is not on our radar.”

The Sea Eagles would have ample funds if they decided not to renew Orford’s contract when his lucrative four-year deal ends after next season.

It is believed the 30-year-old halfback is keen to play another two seasons in the NRL before heading to England. Mayer has not started discussions with Orford and his manager George Mimis about extending his deal beyond 2009.

Along with Penrith, the Sea Eagles were one of the hot favourites for Carney’s signature earlier this year and had tabled an offer similar to the $1.6 million deal that convinced him to stay at Canberra. After missing out on Carney, they invested heavily in Knights utility Chris Bailey and giant Parramatta winger Tony Williams.

Carney is strongly tipped to sign with Wigan, possibly as soon as this week. The club’s chief executive Ian Lenegan has already said he is interested in signing the 22-year-old despite his behaviour off the field. But it is understood Carney wants only a one-year deal so he can return to Australia for family reasons.

And NRL chief executive David Gallop, who said he would refuse to register Carney next year if he found another club, has left the door open for a return in 2010 – despite pressure from the Raiders to ban him from playing in the NRL for longer. “[But] he would have to show that he has made significant inroads into his issues if he was to return from 2010,” Gallop said last night.

Meanwhile, Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg has made the startling claim that the Sonny Bill Williams saga will help attract a new major sponsor after Mitsubishi Electric confirmed yesterday it was ending its five-year association with the embattled club.

“I believe it puts us in a position of strength,” Greenberg said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and support from our corporate partners for showing the strength we did and standing up for ourselves during the last few weeks.”

Mitsubishi Electric has endured plenty of adverse publicity during its association with the club, including the Coffs Harbour rape allegations, bloodletting in the boardroom and the departure of a string of high-profile stars including the walkouts of Willie Mason and, more recently, Williams.

In team news, the Roosters remain confident of representative fullback Anthony Minichiello returning before the end of the season despite him being overlooked for Friday night’s clash against Cronulla at Toyota Stadium.

Minichiello is still feeling pain down one arm because of a bulging disc in his neck discovered two months ago and there have been fears he won’t return this season.

Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan admitted the former Australian and NSW fullback’s progress had been “slow”.

“We’re being ultra-cautious,” he said. “There’s some residual pain. It’s subsiding but it’s still there. We’re hopeful that he’ll be back at some stage this year.”

By ricky

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