Manly are set to promote development players into the club’s NRL squad as the punishment for breaching the salary cap coupled with injuries and the exiling of Jackson Hastings threatens their ability to name a team each week.
With Hastings off contract at the end of the season and on the outer with team-mates, the Sea Eagles would prefer he leaves now to free up roster space as coach Trent Barrett is down to 23 available players and faces the loss of as many as four stars during the Holden State of Origin series.
Besides Hastings, rookie five-eighth Tom Wright and centre Tevita Funa, both 20, were the only available players on the Manly roster not named in the 21-man squad for Sunday’s match against Parramatta.
After being restricted to a salary cap worth $330,000 less than rival clubs for this season and 2019 as part of their penalty for salary cap breaches totalling $1.5 million over the past five years, the Sea Eagles last week released forward Darcy Lussick.
His departure to Toronto Wolfpack was intended to create room in the salary cap so Manly could bring in other players to give them the required 30-man squad by June 30.
Officially, the Sea Eagles have 28 players on their roster but in reality Barrett has significantly less than that number to draw on as:
- Retired former Test forward Nate Myles remains on the club’s books and is taking up one position;
- Forwards Curtis Sironen and Kelepi Tanginoa have been ruled out for the season with knee injuries;
- Winger Jorge Taufua is sidelined until mid-season with a broken collarbone;
- Hastings has been relegated to NSW Intrust Super Premiership feeder team Blacktown Sea Eagles following an incident with skipper Daly Cherry-Evans in Gladstone before their round-five match against Gold Coast Titans.
With the Sea Eagles hosting North Queensland in round 13, Barrett will be desperately hoping Taufua returns before then as Jake and Tom Trbojevic are almost certain to be on Origin duty with NSW and unavailable to play.
Hooker Api Koroisau is also under consideration for the Blues, while Cherry-Evans is among the contenders to replace Cooper Cronk in the Queensland No.7 jersey.
If Koroisau or Cherry-Evans are selected and Taufau has not recovered, Barrett would need to call up Hastings just so he could name a 21-man squad on the Tuesday before the Cowboys fixture on May 31.
Despite the clear frustration with his players after Sunday's 38-12 capitulation to Wests Tigers, Barrett isn't in a position to make changes to his line-up and that will only get worse if Manly suffer further injuries or suspensions.
However, any request to the NRL for dispensation to cover the loss of Sironen and Tanginoa is likely to be rejected as salary cap relief is not usually granted to clubs for season-ending injuries.
By releasing Lussick, the club is able to use his contract money to sign the two recruits required to increase their roster to 30 but they are likely to be players on development contracts who will join the squad on the NRL’s minimum wage of $85,000 per season.
If Hastings was to leave it would free up more money as he is understood to be on a good contract for his standing in the game but the Sea Eagles are resigned to him staying until the end of the season.
At just 22, there are fears Hastings may not find another NRL club as he left the Sydney Roosters under a similar cloud and not everyone at the St George Illawarra Dragons was unhappy to see the Australian Schoolboys halfback leave in 2014.
Several hours after the news broke, Hastings took to his Instagram account to repeat a well-used sports industry quote: "Everything comes to you at the right time. Be patient and trust the process."
The Sea Eagles feel they have done everything possible to help Hastings get his career back on track but there are concerns about his welfare after falling out so dramatically with teammates.
Former NSW halfback Brett Finch, who was working alongside Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and Mark Gasnier at a Blues under-18s pathways training camp on Tuesday, said he was worried about Hastings's state of mind.
"I don’t know what’s gone on, or where it’s at, but … you do feel for the individual and you hope they’re OK," Finch said.
"It’s not good, you don’t like to see any young player go through it. There’s obviously some sort of issue there… he’s been at a couple of clubs now. Hopefully, whatever drama is there, it can be sorted or moving forward he can find a place."