‘We’re not releasing him’: Dragons, Sea Eagles in tug-of-war for rising star
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Manly are set to go to war with a leading player agent, digging in their heels over the future of rising star Viliami Fifita in a tug-of-war for his services with St George Illawarra.
Despite his manager Mario Tartak indicating to the Dragons that the dynamic front-rower will be released from the final two years of his deal to join the club, Manly aren’t giving in.
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Fartak was under the impression Fifita would be able to take up a deal with the Dragons despite having two years to run on his deal, but Manly are adamant that won’t be the case.
“We’re not releasing him,” Sea Eagles chief executive Tony Mestrov said of the 22-year-old, who is expected to debut for the club this year.
“He has a two-year contract. He’s a quality young front-rower and he’s staying here. He’s spoken to the club and declared his wish to stay here.”
Fartak once had a stronghold at the club when it came to recruitment and retention. His close relationship with recruitment manager Scott Fulton saw many of the best young players in western Sydney sign with the Sea Eagles.
The club’s reliance on a new recruitment and retention committee, which Mestrov now sits on, has diluted Fulton’s voice and diminished Tartak’s power at the club despite having a number of key players on the roster.
One of those is back-rower Haumole Olakau’atu. Manly fear his future could be used against the club if the relationship between Mestrov and Tartak deteriorates.
Interestingly (yawn), this column has also been told the Dragons have had discussions about potentially luring Fulton to the club in a recruitment role.
The Fulton family has strong ties to the Manly club. The recent removal of Kristie Fulton
– the daughter of club legend and Immortal Bob Fulton – from an office role and the reduction in Scott’s influence will test those ties.
Mestrov has had a baptism of fire since taking over as CEO at the end of last year. He was heavily criticised over his handling of Des Hasler’s sacking,(which happened before he took over but as I'm a dumb journo I didn't check that), with the former coach threatening legal action against the club.
Mestrov’s decision to bring in Anthony Seibold has so far been vindicated with the club sitting on top of the ladder with two wins and a bye.
Seibold was largely considered damaged goods after his failed stint at the Broncos but appears to have resurrected his career on the Northern Beaches.
“This situation he finds himself in at Manly is very similar to when he had success at South Sydney,” Mestrov said.
“He had senior players, like he does now with Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers. He did well in that environment and gave young players a crack around them like he’s doing now. He’s an astute footy brain.
“He had his challenges at Brisbane but it wasn’t the right environment for him. He’s learnt from his successes and his mistakes.”