/Adrian Proszenko - SMH - 07/03/15
Popular face: Matt Ballin in action against the Eels on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images
Manly face the prospect of losing another of their favourite sons amid fears loyal stalwart Matt Ballin may be forced out of the embattled club.
Fairfax Media can reveal the Sea Eagles have expressed interest in Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough for the next season. McCullough was close to recommitting to the Broncos but is now considering a lucrative shift south.
The Sea Eagles are still reeling from Daly Cherry-Evans' decision to take up a huge four-year deal with the Titans and are bracing for the likely departure of fellow international half Kieran Foran to Parramatta.
Ballin, off contract at the end of the season, is one of the most popular players on the northern beaches. The 31-year-old, who has played one State of Origin game for Queensland, had been hoping for one last Manly contract that would enable him to finish as a one-club man.
While negotiations had begun to retain him, it is understood the Sea Eagles put them on the backburner during the past week as they gauged McCullough's interest.
Ballin is just five games short of breaking the 200 mark and his potential departure will be a bitter pill for frustrated Manly fans.
The Sea Eagles were hammered 42-12 by arch rivals Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium and injuries to key players will leave them again understrength for Saturday night's clash with Melbourne at Brookvale.
Promising back Clint Gutherson's season is over following confirmation he ruptured his ACL, while scans revealed Foran suffered a slight hamstring tear. The pivot's return date will become clearer in coming days but he is expected to miss at least a month of football.
Manly powerbrokers were already coming up with contingency plans before they pulled Cherry-Evans' deal from the table. Trent Hodkinson is one of their targets, although Cronulla have also expressed interest in the Canterbury and NSW halfback. Gold Coast duo Aidan Sezer and NYC teammate Kane Elgey are also on a shortlist.
Sea Eagles owners and management are under pressure following a tumultuous off-season that resulted in the loss of key personnel and tension with coach Geoff Toovey.
Manly chief executive officer Joe Kelly has backed Toovey to see out the final two years of his contract but the pair clearly weren't on the same page in negotiations to retain Cherry-Evans.
Toovey was blindsided during a television appearance when told the club's offer had been pulled from the table. The incident followed a clash over Kelly's push to sign Luke Burgess from South Sydney.
After taking over from Des Hasler in difficult circumstances, Toovey has compiled an excellent record as head coach and has a winning percentage of 59 per cent. But it is understood there are factions trying to destabilise him at the club.
Asked if he felt sufficiently supported by management, a diplomatic Toovey told Triple M's Deadset Legends: "Yeah, definitely. I'm a man to stand on my own two feet as well. I think the results over the last three years speak volumes about that.
"I think we will have a successful year this year. Not a great start obviously, with injuries and Cherry-Evans going to the Gold Coast, but at least that's one thing settled. We can focus now on the football."
While disappointed about losing his gun halfback, Toovey believed the club could overhaul its roster.
"It opens up some opportunities to fill that position and also some other resources to other areas we need to focus on as well," he said.
"It's not all bad news but it will take a bit of time. We've got all year to do it so that's one positive."