Dan Walsh, NRL.com
Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey has accused outside influences of "trying to bring the club down" amid further rumblings of player discontent on the Northern Beaches after his side's 21-12 dismantling of the Dragons at Jubilee Oval.
Just minutes before kick-off reports from Channel Nine emerged that three of Manly's stars - Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and current NSW second-rower Anthony Watmough - had sought releases in recent weeks as the fallout from the decision to not offer club favourite Glenn Stewart a contract continues to engulf the club.
The majority of Manly players brushed the media after the match, though Matai confirmed to Triple M that he had sought and been denied a release from the club in the wake of being offered a reported four-year, $2.5 million deal by the Warriors.
Watmough refused to confirm or deny whether he had sought a release from the final year of his contract with the Sea Eagles, while the youngest of the Stewart brothers is contracted to the club until the end of 2016.
Rumours have hit fever pitch in recent weeks of the club being divided along senior and junior ranks over the departure of the eldest Stewart to Souths next year, with the push to retain Clive Churchill medal-winning halfback Daly Cherry-Evans – who will be one of the most sought-after players in the NRL when off-contract next season – and recent contract extensions for back-rowers Jamie Buhrer and Jesse Sene-Lefao believed to have split the playing group.
Toovey went on the offensive in the wake of his side's fifth win in six starts, though significantly did not give a definitive answer on whether the star trio had asked to leave the club.
"Everyone keeps trying to bring the club down when we're successful and I don't understand it so we'll continue on," said Toovey.
"This year's going extremely well for us and we've got a great group of players and they're playing extremely well. That's what they do best, is play football and hopefully they'll continue to do that.
"I can't confirm or deny... I don't talk about contracts but as far as I know they'll be here next year."
Skipper Jamie Lyon dismissed the continued speculation as "a bit of a beat-up", while Toovey mused that rival clubs must be flouting the NRL's November 1st anti-tampering date for there to be persistent rumours about Manly players leaving the club despite having over a year to run on current contracts.
"I don't know (if clubs are approaching players) but that's the only thing I can think (why) those rumours are out there," said Toovey.
"I don't know if that's legal or not. I believe it's not legal but it's a quality team full of quality players and we're doing our best to continue on having a great season and that's what we'll do."
Matai and Stewart were among the Sea Eagles' best as they repeatedly targeted the Dragons' fragile right edge in the four-tries-to-two win, which was only Manly's second in seven visits to Jubilee Oval.
"We've had difficulty winning here and our record shows that," Toovey said of the win that elevates the Sea Eagles two points clear at the top of the NRL ladder.
"But it was a really tough effort from our blokes. They're a quality side and I thought we defended really well."
Toovey said post-match that Matai, who left the field midway through the first half with a cork, was not a major injury concern, though a suspected medial ligament tear to Dunamis Lui has the young prop in doubt for Manly's trip to New Zealand for next Sunday's clash.