By MALCOLM KNOX in SMH 18/4/15 Toovey or not Toovey? That is the question for Manly (if you ask the chairman) or not (if you ask the chief executive), pretty much standard on-the-same-pageness between the club's board and management. It is no secret that something is rotten in the state of Brookvale. Now Bob Fulton has been appointed the club's "strategic consultant", which is nice, because it's good to have a strategy, and very modern indeed to have consultants. Any year now, the Sea Eagles will also have a computer, and just watch them go then. The play's the thing, however, for Manly, and after a decade of excellence the football team has lost its faculty for covering over the club's infighting and other off-field mayhem. Whether 'tis nobler for the Sea Eagles to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune and a lengthy injured list, or just give up the ghost, seems to be the problem facing coach and players on a weekly basis. The injuries have come, like sorrows, not in singles but in battalions. Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Kieran Foran, Clint Gutherson, Jesse Sene-Lafao, Tom Trbojevic, Brenton Lawrence, Feleti Mateo, Josh Starling – not a team list for Manly this season, but an appointment schedule for the club doctor. Rejoice not, ye unbelievers, because injuries are not just Manly's problem but the entire NRL's. A worthy international team could be made up from the players currently out injured. Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Jamal Idris, Brett Morris, Semi Radradra, Jamie Soward, Adam Reynolds, John Sutton, Aidan Guerra, Beau Scott, Adam Blair, Ben Henry, Dave Shillington, Dylan Walker, Blake Ferguson, Tim Lafai, David Fifita: you don't even need to tap the Manly wounded to come up with a top-class casualty 17. Is there a systemic problem that is robbing the league of so many of its drawcards, or is it just coincidence? Nobody can point to anything other than the speed and impact of the game itself, which is perhaps the most worrying trend of all. Self-destruction is as much a rugby league addiction as video-ref replays, but could the game be literally destroying itself? When players are fed and trained up into 110-kilo torpedoes being fired at each other with unprecedented speed and precision, wouldn't serious injuries be the norm rather than the exception? The protection of small playmakers from late hits is a bigger priority than ever because they are being hit by bigger men than ever. Injuries actually could emerge, by the end of this season, as the NRL's biggest issue, bigger even than refereeing. Debates over the salary cap will hardly be relevant when each club is spending half its money on guys who are not able to play. The premiers will be the team least affected by injuries. That's not a prediction, it's a fact. It's also not very interesting. It will be an awful shame if the opposing halfbacks in the grand final are Glenn Stewart and Mitch Aubusson. Whether anything can be done about it is, unlike league's other issues, a real problem because it is intractable. The suggested reform to the interchange rule sounds like a good idea if only because fewer replacements might bring down the average size of the NRL player, but it's going to be hard to address problems of excessive size, speed and destructiveness when those factors are league's biggest appeal. But back to Manly's implosion (so much for diversion tactics). Throughout the Hasler-Toovey era, Manly have never been a team noted for their attention to detail. Going into games without a back-up goalkicker? That's Manly. Taken by surprise and unable to defend against short kick-offs? Manly. Dopey fifth-tackle options? Even at their best, that was a Manly trademark. Compared with Craig Bellamy's Melbourne, Trent Robinson's Roosters or Michael Maguire's Rabbitohs, the Sea Eagles were notably inattentive to the one-percenters. They won premierships despite their flakiness. They dominated through brutal simplicity and a dash of brilliance from their halves and fullback. Detail didn't matter so much. Their era didn't end with the loss of Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough, it ended with the loss of Brent Kite and Joe Galuvao a year earlier, it just took a while to sink in. Now that the enthusiastic muscle has gone, all the other cracks stand revealed, and Manly suddenly look like a poorly coached team when they are probably coached just the same way as during their seven or eight years as the best team in the NRL. You feel sorry for Toovey (or at least I do) because if he is a bad coach now, then he was also a bad coach when he took Manly to a grand final and two other good years. What's changed is that this year he only has about eight fit first-grade-quality players. With the appointment of Fulton, Manly's staff is on notice, from Toovey through to his assistants David Penna and Steve Georgallis and football manager Dave Warwick. (Alas, poor Warwick!) This year, there's been a bit too much of "We can't get the wooden spoon because we're Manly, and Manly never gets the wooden spoon". It's magical, lazy thinking: to sleep, perchance to dream of a form turnaround. Everyone in the football division is denying there's a problem and backing Toovey to the hilt, as you would expect, but sometimes, as the bard said, they doth protest too much. Anyway, this is probably of no relevance to the rest of the league, except those who want to enjoy the spectacle like rubber-neckers slowing down at a crash site. Nobody since Arko could hold seriously to the view that a strong Manly means a strong league, but the club's injury list is a pointer to something that will soon be a preoccupation of every club. The Eagles are canaries down that particular mineshaft. In the meantime, I'm off to that popular eatery on the Corso, Hamlet's, formerly Shakespeare's, to see if Manly's still capable of scoring some meat pies. Who said the northern beaches were a cultural wasteland? -------------------------------------------- Good read again from Knox I thought. Particularly interesting point about lack of preparation, which I agree with with 100%.