BRENT KITE, the man of the match in Manly's impressive victory on Friday night, is in danger of being squeezed out of the club due to salary cap constraints.
Kite has been one of the premiers' most consistent forwards this year and overpowered the much-hyped Souths pack at Bluetongue Stadium. He finished with 16 hit-ups for 140 metres and 34 tackles.
And while club officials would love to keep him - the former NSW and Australian prop who switched from the Dragons in 2005 - the Sea Eagles are under massive salary cap pressure for next year and beyond. Some of their biggest names are on heavily back-ended contracts and they would not stand in the way should Kite - on a salary of $280,000 a season - seek an early release.
Retaining the core of the roster which won last year's grand final has been a delicate balancing act. While several big names have been re-signed - including halves Keiran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans - others remain free agents. NSW fullback Brett Stewart has been tabled a four-year deal but is yet to commit, while former Blue David Williams is another with an uncertain future.
Complicating the issue is the unresolved TV broadcast rights deal, with players and clubs unsure of how much the salary cap will rise in the future.
While Kite's form and commitment can't be faulted, it's feared some of the club's promising young juniors will not be retained should the 31-year-old remain. Should Kite stay put, officials will hope that other contracted players may consider moving on.
Manly's victory snapped South Sydney's six-game winning streak, but Rabbitohs players denied a drop in motivation was behind the result.
''The enthusiasm was there,'' star forward Sam Burgess said yesterday. ''We were ready for that game. It probably looked like it was down because we didn't complete our plays to the standard that we've set over the last couple of months.''
The 23-6 loss pushed the Bunnies back to third on the ladder. Centre Matt King agreed that the players were highly motivated going in against the premiers.
''Motivation and enthusiasm weren't factors … we moved away from what we've been doing the last six weeks and it was really disappointing,'' he said.
''We had built up a bit of momentum which came to an almighty halt last night. It's a shame, but we've got three or four weeks to get things right.''
King said coach Michael Maguire did not particularly touch on the issue of complacency in the lead-up to the game.
''This group is a really honest group and if you're not motivated playing against Manly this time of year then you're kidding yourselves,'' King said. ''But I think the score was a fair indicator of how much better they were than us.''
On Friday night Rabbitohs co-captain Michael Crocker declared Manly a premiership-winning team. The Eagles had managed to keep Souths scoreless for the final 77 minutes of the game.
King said there were some positives to take from the loss, describing it as a ''fortunate'' opportunity to learn from their mistakes before finals football.
''It's a blessing playing these sorts of games before September,'' he said. ''We're fortunate that we get to learn from that loss. If we play like that in September, that's it, we're just making up the numbers.''
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