Wayne Bennett has expressed his disappointment over the dumping of Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey after Tuesday's announcement that his services wouldn't be required beyond this season.
With Manly stuck at the bottom of the ladder for the majority of the season, three wins from their past four games wasn't enough to save Toovey from the axe although speculation about his job had circulated for a number of months.
Penrith assistant coach Trent Barrett was named as his replacement for the next three years from 2016.
Bennett, the NRL's most experienced coach, has known the champion halfback since he made his debut for Manly in 1988 – the same year the Broncos entered the competition.
Toovey faced Bennett's Broncos on 19 occasions during his 286-game career before finally hanging up the boots at the end of 2001.
"I'm disappointed in what's happened to him," Bennett said.
"I think he's a really good bloke and I've always admired him. I thought he was a wonderful competitor as a player, particularly in the era when we were at our best here and he was part of that for Manly and they played in three grand finals (during the 1990s).
"No one would understand how difficult his job was this year, it's just been a horrific year at that club and it's pretty unfair just to label that on the coach."
After taking over the Manly coaching job from Des Hasler in 2012 and making three finals appearances, including the 2013 grand final, Toovey couldn't avoid the dreaded tap on the shoulder from the club's board and owners.
Having lost club stalwarts Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough in the off-season to the Rabbitohs and Eels respectively, it appeared the Sea Eagles would also lose both Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans until Cherry-Evans back flipped on a deal to join the Titans.
Manly has 14 players coming off-contract at the end of this season and have already lost Foran, Jack Littlejohn (Wests Tigers) and Ligi Sao (Warriors) for next season.
The addition of seasoned veterans Nate Myles, Lewis Brown, Apisai Koroisau and Darcy Lussick in 2016 should provide a boost the club, who lost over 500 games of NRL experience with the departures of Stewart and Watmough.
Bennett was adamant that the off-field distractions surrounding the club have taken its toll on Toovey, with the club's on-field performances suffering as a result.
"That's what happens to you when you stop coaching and try to handle all the other issues around the club," he said.
"To lose two star players (Stewart and Watmough) before the season got underway made it worse and a few other [players] also in the interim.
"It just stifles everything you're trying to do and prevents you from being the club you want to be. To his credit he's been able to pull them back together – they are all playing for each other and having a go there now.
"[Outside influence] makes your job that much more difficult, but it's over for him now and probably a part of him his relieved.
"At the end of the day it doesn't stop my admiration for him and I'm sure the Manly fans value what he's done there. I hope he goes back there one day and there's a role for him somewhere."