Administration at the Manly Sea Eagles may have underestimated the impact the departure of popular club stalwart Glenn Stewart has had on the playing group, according to five-eighth Kieran Foran.
On Thursday a matter-of-fact Foran pointed to issues higher up than the playing group as the problem, insisting the players remained tight-knit, while also adding centre Steve Matai deserved to be granted a release to join the Warriors.
Manly vow to 'stick tight'
Manly vow to 'stick tight'
Matai is one of a number of Manly players who has stayed for less money in order to keep the successful squad together, along with Glenn and his brother Brett Stewart, and representative back-rower Anthony Watmough.
Glenn recently signed a two-year deal with South Sydney from next year after the club eventually failed to even table him an offer.
Stewart has played 179 games for Manly since debuting in 2003, played five Origins for NSW, five Tests for Australia and won two premierships with Manly in 2008 and 2011 – in the latter winning the Clive Churchill Medal for the best player in the Grand Final.
Foran said the fact he had not even been made an offer was disappointing for the players.
"I think personally the club probably underestimated Glenn Stewart's departure, and we said all along that 'Gift' was a massive part of building this culture here," Foran said.
"As players we probably felt that he deserved a contract put in front of him. As all the boys are mates with him [we're] probably disappointed."
The club has been struggling to retain the entirety of its star playing roster, with many players reportedly on back-ended contracts making fresh negotiations difficult, but Foran said he wasn't sure if the salary cap had even been the reason Stewart was forced out.
While the salary cap always forces players out at every club over time, "whether that was the reason [Glenn] was forced out I'm not too sure," he said.
However, Foran said there was no disharmony within the playing group.
"I think our results have shown on the field that we're getting on good here so I wouldn't say there's disharmony."
Asked if the issues were at board level, Foran replied, "yeah, I'd say so".
"I can't elaborate on the issues, I don't really know the issues to be honest with you but I guess there are issues."
He said he had not yet taken his concerns to club management.
"It's just about moving forward and everyone getting on and trying to have the best season that we can possibly have. Everyone's getting on good, it's just a case of there's issues there that need to be addressed and sorted and hopefully they can get sorted.
"I can't really comment on individual situations. There are issues that probably need to be sorted but that's the way it is.
"I think everyone's contracted to the end of next year and some beyond so we'll just have to wait and see."
Matai has publicly stated he has asked for a release to join the Warriors, which would be a lucrative four-year, allowing the almost-30-year-old to finish his career with a lucrative contract.
"In Stevie's situation yes [he should be allowed to go]," Foran said.
"I believe that Stevie's taken unders for a lot of years now to stay at this club and I think that if he can now set his family up and get a big money contract elsewhere I think the club should assess it.
"I know there's been a lot of boys that have [taken unders]. There's been a lot of sacrifices from the older boys and senior boys to keep the group together."
Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans – one of Manly's retention priorities and reportedly part of the reason the club was unable to make Stewart a competitive offer – said that while there is "definitely stuff to sort out" at the club in terms of contracts, he wouldn't be drawn on any specific player's situation.
"We've got a lot of people coming off contract soon so of course it's a hot topic," Cherry-Evans said.
However he denied he had had any contact from Parramatta, and added that as he was contracted to Manly through to the end of 2015 it would be "ridiculous" to speculate where he would be beyond that.
Cherry-Evans said it was "great" that the board had opted not to grant players early releases from their contracts – which seemingly put him at odds with teammate Foran.
"We've got a great roster, there's no secret in the success this side's had so to keep everyone involved for as long as possible, then that's great," he said.
He said there were no issues with regards to the mood at the club.
"Personally – we're winning games of rugby league. That's the best part about rugby league is when you're winning games. A winning culture is something that catches on to everyone. I feel as though every players' got that at the moment," he said.
"I think there's been adversity at this club for a long time and we always find a way to get out through the other end. I think this is just another speed bump in the club and we'll continue to move forward and continue to hopefully go out there and be successful on the field which is what matters most."
The night before Foran spoke, Manly put out a statement saying the board supported head coach Geoff Toovey and the club's position around player retention. Without specifically mentioning any individuals, the club said negotiations with "a number of players" would hopefully see them remain at the club.
The statement also said the board acknowledged their regret at not being able to retain Glenn Stewart, but "we look forward to seeing him back on the field and farewelling him in the bets possible way at the end of the 2014 NRL season".