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Vodafone Warriors CEO Mick Watson today announced long-serving halfback Stacey Jones will leave the club at the end of 2005 NRL season after seeking and being granted an early release from his contract. The 28-year-old Jones said he was set to continue his playing career in the 2006 English Super League competition after signing a letter of intent to join French club UTC. ?There?s been a lot of speculation about my future lately,? he said. ?I couldn?t say anything about it before because discussions were still going on about my plans to join UTC next year. ?Now I?ve agreed to terms I asked the club to bring this announcement forward so I can get on with putting all my efforts into playing my best football for the Warriors. ?I love the Warriors and I always will. I?m a life member and I?m really proud of that after being here since the club started in 1995. ?Being a Warrior has always been really important to me but there comes a time when you know yourself that you need a change.? Jones said he started the process of requesting a release several months ago. ?Right at the start of our off-season I sat down with Mick to talk about my plans,? he said. ?It had been on my mind for quite a while to look at finishing up in the NRL at the end of 2005 so I told Mick I would put everything I had into the off-season, play one more year and then I?d like to move on. ?I thought it was time for someone else to come in and there are plenty of players here who will step up. ?I told Mick I thought my time was up in the NRL and that I wanted to move on to another opportunity and a change of lifestyle. ?Asking for a release is always a special case and I really appreciate the help Mick has given me with this and with putting my deal together with UTC.? Jones said the lifestyle factor was important in his decision. ?This is my 11th season in the NRL. It?s tough when you play in it for that long but there are other things I want to do now. I want to get away from the spotlight so I can just play football and try to have some normal time with my family. That?s why I?m looking forward to going to France.?
Jones was supported at today?s announcement by Vodafone Warriors team-mates Monty Betham and Nathan Fien while director Maurice Kidd and New Zealand Rugby League chairman Selwyn Pearson were also in attendance. In making the announcement, Watson said Jones? stature at the Vodafone Warriors meant his request for a release had become a matter for the directors to decide on. ?Stacey and I started a process several months ago,? he said. ?He wasn?t certain about carrying on last year but after the season we had in 2004 it was vital that we convinced him to stay with the only NRL club he?d known. ?He trained outstandingly in the off-season and looked to be in his best shape for some time in our trial matches. ?But Stacey told me he sensed his time was coming to an end in the NRL. ?He said he didn?t feel confident about maintaining the standards he sets himself, that this should be his last year and one more would be a season too far in this demanding competition. ?I approached the directors to inform them Stacey was also struggling with the environment here and that he wanted to have a look at opportunities outside New Zealand.? Maurice Kidd said the directors were convinced Jones should be granted his wish to leave and to do so under his own terms. ?We have no wish to keep Stacey, and especially someone of his standing, against his will,? he said. ?No one can match the contribution he has made to the club in good times and bad for which we will always be appreciative. Now it?s time for us to allow him to follow his wishes. He will go at the end of the season with our complete understanding and support.? Jones added today?s announcement would enable him to focus completely on the Vodafone Warriors for the rest of the season. ?I?ve loved my footy with the Warriors so far this season. The guys are all brilliant to be around, I?ve enjoyed the new coaching team and I have always had a good relationship with this management,? he said. ?I have total faith in our coaching staff and the team. In the second half against Newcastle (last week) we showed what we?re capable of and I know if we can play like that consistently we?ll be up there later in the season. ?I want this year to finish well and I?ll do everything I can to help the team and to thank the club for what it?s done for me.? Jones, who made a try-scoring first grade debut against Parramatta on April 23, 1995, lifted his club record appearances tally to 221 in last Sunday?s dramatic 30-26 win over Newcastle. He also owns club records for the most tries (72), most points (563), most field goals (11) and most consecutive appearances (101).