http://www.theaustralian.com.au/spo...my-team-a-circus/story-e6frg7t6-1227261905558 by: JAMES MADDEN From: The Australian March 14, 2015 12:00AM WHEN I was eight years old, after my first visit to Brookvale Oval with my father, I made a lifelong commitment to Manly. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, I promised to love and cherish that proud rugby league club and all who pulled on its jersey until death did us part. The ensuing 32 years have been mostly happy. Yes, there have been difficult periods of estrangement — we separated during the Northern Eagles years, when Manly briefly shacked up with the North Sydney Bears — but over the course of our relationship we have spawned four beautiful premierships (1987, 1996, 2008 and 2011, and I love them all equally). But over the past week the bond has been sorely tested. The most successful NRL club of the past decade has been brought to its knees by incompetent management and a dysfunctional board and ownership structure that has bred such hate and suspicion among the players that they’re climbing over each other to flee the joint, if they haven’t already scarpered. With the season one game old, Manly fans now know the club’s two best players, and indeed two of the sport’s kingpins, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, won’t be wearing maroon and white next year. Supporters had just come to terms with the departure of Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart. Morale is shot; this season is a write-off, just 80 minutes in. Well, so what, rival fans will say. Player transfers are a routine and necessary part of a competition with a salary cap, and the club-hopping keeps the NRL the country’s most evenly contested football code year in, year out. But for Manly fans, the pain lies in the fact it didn’t have to be like this. Just 18 months ago, the club’s mini-dynasty seemed entrenched, and looked set to possibly stretch for another decade given the talent on the playing roster. Manly may have lost the hard-fought 2013 grand final against the Sydney Roosters, but the future looked bright. It was the club’s fourth grand final appearance in seven years, a remarkable achievement matched in recent times only by the Melbourne Storm. Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Brent Kite played in all four of those grand finals. That group, with the possible exception of Kite, was still at the peak of its powers, while young guns Cherry-Evans and Foran, who also featured in the 2013 decider and the 2011 grand final win over the Warriors, were emerging as the NRL’s best halves pairing. As has been well documented, the failure last year to offer veteran Glenn Stewart any kind of contract for 2015 was the tipping point. The petty personal differences of the warring factions in the boardroom, which was split over who to keep and who to let go, soon spread to the dressing room. Stewart was a much-loved and big personality within the team, and the perceived lack of respect afforded to him particularly infuriated his brother Brett, and his close mates Watmough and Matai. The Stewart brothers, Watmough and Matai were among those who had previously settled for salaries well below their market value in order that Manly could retain its premiership-winning core. The suspicion was that the club was preparing to throw a big bag of money at Cherry-Evans, and that this would force Glenn Stewart out. The team was bitterly divided, and Watmough sought, and was granted, an early release from the final year of his contract to allow him to join Parramatta. Losing Stewart and Watmough was less than ideal, but worse was to come. In what must rank as one of the sport’s most ham-fisted negotiations in years, plans to try to keep both Cherry-Evans and Foran were so badly botched that both chose to walk. Any hope of a premiership for the remainder of the decade went with them. Club rhetoric about “rebuilding” shouldn’t be allowed to mask the truth that Manly’s descent into chaos has been a self-inflicted wound that could have been easily avoided had the most basic management structure been in place. Sores were allowed to fester, and those who were pulling the purse strings were pulling in different directions, to the obvious detriment of the club. What it means, apart from several years in the competition’s wilderness, is that for the remainder of 2015, Manly fans will be cheering for two blokes who don’t want to be there, and despite their public utterances to the contrary, can’t wait to get out. Yes, they are professional athletes, but it’s fair to ask: How much will they be willing to bleed for the club, now that they have mentally, and financially, checked out? Having Cherry-Evans and Foran in the side is a sad reminder of the circus that the club has become. They have been outstanding players for Manly, but their presence on the field feels hollow. The club should thank them for their services, then show them the door this morning and promote some juniors for tonight’s game against Melbourne. And the eight-year-old kid standing with his dad somewhere on the hill at Brookvale Oval can pledge his allegiance to the jersey and all who wear it.