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The Manly Sea Eagles have confirmed long-serving forward Anthony Watmough has been granted a release from the final year of his contract, but have also announced the signings of three forwards and appointed a new CEO.

New Chairman Scott Penn and coach Geoff Toovey fronted the media on Tuesday morning to go through a number of developments at the club.

Watmough released

Watmough was one of several senior players most disappointed in the club’s decision not to offer Glenn Stewart a contract past 2014. Although still signed until the end of 2015, Watmough was keen to sign a deal that would see out the rest of his career. Although not confirmed by Manly on Tuesday, it has been widely reported Watmough could link with the Eels as early as this week. 

Penn said it was a tough decision for the club to make given Watmough is a life member of the club, a local junior and a two-time Manly premiership winner. “It’s a disappointing thing to be losing Anthony but his management asked us for a release for 2015 and we are granting that,” he said.

Penn said that prior to his family’s purchase of a controlling stake in the club Watmough had already made a decision on his career post 2015. “In terms of turning that decision around it was very difficult so a decision had to be made around 2015, what’s best for him and what’s best for the club,” he said.

Toovey agreed it was a difficult decision to make but it enabled the club to bring in some additional resources for 2015, meaning the release was the best decision for all parties concerned.

Watmough has played eight NRL games for the Northern Eagles and 278 for the Sea Eagles since his 2002 debut, and helped the club to the 2008 and 2011 premiership victories.

Three forwards signed, Lyon re-signed

The club announced the signing of Warriors and former Eels forward Feleti Mateo on a two year deal. The Warriors released Mateo from the final two years of his contract to return to Australia. The club also announced the signing of Willie Mason from Newcastle on a one year deal and Siosaia Vave from Cronulla on a two year deal.

The club also extended the contract of captain Jamie Lyon for two years until the end of 2016.

“We’ve lost probably 2,000 games of first grade experience over the past three or four years and Willie will definitely bring that experience, I think we need that,” Toovey said.

In a club release, Manly said the signings will go some way to filling the void left in the pack by the departures of Glenn Stewart, Watmough and Jason King. 

Mason said he was looking forward to being a part of the club’s famed winning mentality and showing the coaching staff he is “ready to rip in from the get-go”.

The club also said Vave’s 188 centimetre, 115 kilogram frame will help soften the impact of losing some key forwards and provide some more power in the front row stocks.

Joe Kelly announced as new CEO

Penn announced the appointment of football administrator Joe Kelly from the Rabbitohs as the new club CEO, replacing David Perry who left the club this week.

“We’re absolutely delighted to have Joe on board, he comes very well-credentialed. Most recently he has been at South Sydney for the last 8 years and prior to that was at Chelsea Football Club in the UK. He’s a very strong campaigner and a very strong sports administrator,” Penn said.

“As a club we need to move forward, we’ve got plenty of exciting things to announce over the coming months and Joe is going to be an instrumental part of our future.”

Kelly was chief financial officer and second in charge at the Rabbitohs in his eight year stint at Redfern, and head of finance for five years at Chelsea FC in the UK Premier League.

“Joe is clearly one of the most talented executives in the game and has been instrumental in the turnaround at the Rabbitohs,” Penn added.

Kelly said he will look to bring his 18 years of sports administration experience to the role.

“If you look at professional sporting clubs across the world, the business of football in any code is really very similar. The key learnings for me are growing things like memberships, focusing on commercial revenue streams and ensuring you can correctly resource football departments. The success of the football department drives so many other aspects of the business,” Kelly said.

“A strong connection to the community is really important so we’ll look at growing that. The foundations are already very good.”

Kelly said with the Penn family taking a controlling stake and Souths having just won a premiership, the timing was right for him to move. “The pathway is now clear. Geoff and myself and the rest of the organisation have a clear path and we have to make the most of it. The timing was right,” he said.

He added Manly had been able to achieve “staggering” on-field results given the club’s off-field distractions in recent years.

“I’ve seen Manly as an outlier in terms of its performances given the business side of things. With the distractions that have gone on off-field they’re still been able to perform on-field,” he said.

Toovey’s future safe, coaching resources to be boosted

Penn stressed that Toovey – under contract until the end of 2016 – won’t be going anywhere.

“I want to rid us of any speculation around the man to my left. Geoff Toovey is firmly under contract at the Manly Sea Eagles and we have some exciting plans for the future,” Penn said.

He said there had been “some dialogue” with former Dragons coach Nathan Brown but nothing had been agreed to at this stage.

“We have two able assistant coaches in place already, we’re looking at potentially bolstering our coaching stock – we’re not looking at any replacements necessarily, we’re looking at how we can continue to evolve as a club,” he added.

Toovey said he is comfortable with his position and with the new ownership structure of the club.

“I have a great working relationship with both the football club and with the Penn family and I look forward to continuing that in the future,” Toovey said.

“It’s no secret there’s always been budgetary constraints here but we won’t be changing too much too quickly. It is invigorating to know we have the support of the owners and they are willing to invest and make sure we stay at the level we are.”

Brookvale Oval upgrade

Penn said discussions were underway regarding an upgrade to Brookvale Oval and the new ownership structure would allow that to happen. He said while discussions with government were still in the very early stages the plan is for a consortium to be formed fund an upgrade to the precinct overall – not just the oval. It needs to be a community asset, he added.

“We can now invest money in the club that we’ve wanted to do for a while but [in the past we] couldn’t necessarily control where it’s gone. We now can invest the funds to turn this into a world-class organisation and make the off-field performance of the Sea Eagles match the on-field,” he said.

“This is about paving the way for the future – that includes senior management, that includes coaching resources, that includes finally getting the ground to where we need it to be. We’re sick of bashing Brookvale Oval as a venue.

“We need to make sure we come up with the hope for the future that we can build the right venue there. That’s something that’s still going to take a bit of time but we are now working on the next evolution of that plan and that consolidated ownership gives us a chance to do that.

“We can now say if we want to build a multi-purpose facility that’s fit for purpose, that gives the constituents of the North Shore and Northern Beaches the venue they deserve, we can now invest in that.

“We’ve already been in long dialogue with [State and Federal Government] on an existing model; we’re now going to look at a much bigger model to ensure we get the venue that’s going to stand the test of time.

“There will be a consortium that’s pulled together to do that. It’s still very early days in that process, however that’s the only way to get it done. It’s going to be more of a precinct as opposed to just a stadium but it’s going to be the right thing for the area. There are residents around that so we need to be mindful of their needs but it needs to be a community asset but it also has a fantastic internal stadium.”

Growing members

Penn said it was vital the club was able to grow its member base, and pointed to the Rabbitohs as an example of a club that has handled its membership approach well.

“What Souths have demonstrated is having a member group with the right involvement and their own autonomy gives the best of both worlds.

“They’re on track for 30,000 members in 2015. We’re going to be about half that – we need to get to that level. We need to have a consolidated force on the member side.

“What that looks like is still to be determined but we need to get the right structure in place so that members feel like they have a say and an involvement.” 

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