Brad Walter - SMH
Before they came from the field after last Saturday night's drama-charged 24-22 defeat of Melbourne, Manly coach Geoff Toovey gathered his players in a huddle and told them: "This is what it is all about, this is what we play for, we stick together."
Just 36 hours later, star five-eighth Kieran Foran again gathered the players together to confirm he would be joining Daly Cherry-Evans in exiting the club at the end of the season after agreeing to a $4.8 million, four-year deal with Parramatta.
Gone: Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran. Photo: Getty Images
The departure of Foran and Cherry-Evans, who is leaving for a $4.4 million, four-year deal with Gold Coast, is the first time in memory that a club has lost two key playmakers of their calibre at the same time, but Manly chairman Scott Penn insists it is far from doom and gloom.
"We are united, we have a clear mandate, we know where we want to go, we have the cheque book out for the first time in literally seven or eight years and we are ready to craft the future of this great club," said Penn, whose family owns 90 per cent of the Sea Eagles after a $6 million buyout of Quantum's stake last October.
The irony is that since that move, which has ended a decade of internal bickering at board level, Manly seem to be falling apart on the field following the loss of Test forwards Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough this season and the inability to retain either of their halves, who are now among the NRL's highest paid players.
Toovey's future is also under a cloud after appearing to be out of the loop on a number of key recruitment decisions, including the withdrawal of the club's offer to Cherry-Evans just days before he announced his move to the Titans.
But in a wide-ranging interview on the eve of Friday night's match against Canterbury, whose coach Des Hasler is blamed by some for the exodus at Manly for signing players on backended contracts before his sudden departure after the 2011 grand final, Penn insisted Toovey was still involved in recruitment and retention, explained how the club lost both playmakers and responded to claims by Cherry-Evans that he had a deal with previous management that was later revised down.
"If we make offers as a club we honour them so if there was a formal offer in writing from the club that spells out an amount and terms we will have to seriously look at that, but I am not aware of that," Penn said.
Asked about Toovey appearing to be caught out on television when quizzed on the withdrawal of the club's latest offer to Cherry-Evans after more than three months of negotiations, Penn said the coach had been "blindsided" by the questioning but knew of the decision.
"What has happened is that Geoff has suddenly been confronted on television with details of conversations that he thought were private and confidential, and that has been a really difficult position to be put in live on air but I think he handled it as well as he could in that situation," he said.
What Penn readily admits has not been handled well is the management of the roster at Manly in recent seasons, which has landed the Sea Eagles in the predicament they now find themselves in.
It has been widely reported that the group of senior players, who formed the nucleus of a team that has not missed the finals since 2005 and won two of the four grand finals they contested in those 10 seasons, accepted backended contracts to stay together.
But the emergence of Foran and Cherry-Evans meant it would be almost impossible to retain the pair and enable the likes of Watmough, Glenn and Brett Stewart, Steve Matai, Jamie Lyon, Jason King, Brent Kite and George Rose to play out their careers at Manly.
"This is what we were always going to be faced with but to be fair I think we have done a terrific job of managing that process, probably up until last year when it was going to be difficult to retain a couple of guys," Penn said.
"I have been very vocal about my feelings that the process wasn't handled well and against how I wanted it to play out, and that has created a number of issues for us which we are now mopping up.
"There has been criticism about Kieran and Daly both coming off contract at the same time, but the fact is that when their contracts were negotiated three or four years ago, they were still up and coming players who are both now fantastic players and in high demand.
"We were therefore always at risk in the broader market of another club needing a marquee player and being prepared to go over the top in terms of price, and in both cases there were other parties out there who were very interested and who came to the table with significant offers putting them both in the top five players in the game.
"For us, there were multiple scenarios about how this was going to play out; it was keep both, keep one or keep none. We scenario planned for all of those, it was certainly not our preferred outcome but we have got a solid plan against that outcome anyway and now we are in the market for the first time in a long time."