Where to now for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles?

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

Hands up if you hate the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles?

If I know rugby league fans, there are plenty of hands in the air right now. But that shouldn’t bother us too much, because apparently ‘Manly hates [us] too’.

My hand isn’t in the air. I know it’s blasphemy, but I have never hated Manly the way other footy fans have. Perhaps I’m too young to appreciate the feuds of the past or perhaps I find it hard to hate a team that includes the likes of Akuila Uate and Marty Taupau.

But it’s clear that in 2018 the Sea Eagles are in a lot of trouble both on and off the field.

And it just keeps going from bad to worse, with it confirmed over the weekend that Lachlan Croker did his ACL for the third time in the loss to the Knights on Friday night and will not return this season. He joins a growing injury ward that already includes Brad Parker, Jorge Taufua, Jake Gosiewski, Curtis Sironen and Kelepi Tanginoa.

Truth be told, I am unsurprised about Manly’s misfortunes on the field, particularly given the off-field circumstances surrounding the club right now.

Martin Taupau

(Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

A fish rots from its head, and given the salary cap scandal that has come to the fore this year, it’s fair to say Manly’s head has a lot of work to do to clean up the festering rot which has engulfed the club over the last few years.

In this sense they are fortunate to have Lyall Gorman at the helm, a CEO who is known for his ability to clean up messes.

The Manly salary cap saga has been treated differently in the media to the scandals which involved the Canterbury Bulldogs, Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels. But don’t let the fact that Manly didn’t lose any competition points fool you; the charges were just as serious.

The Sea Eagles were fined $750,000, had two past and present officials were banned and were also handed a $330,000 penalty to their 2018 and 2019 cup because the club was discovered to have promised players $1.5 million in additional undisclosed payments over the past five years.

Potentially that penalty on this year and next year’s cap is more damaging than any penalty handed out in the past for other salary cap breaches because it means that after the sanctions were announced, the Sea Eagles were not able to start fresh. The club will be impacted by these sanctions this year as they look to sign new talent, and then potentially next year too.

Former Manly CEO Joe Kelly

(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The reason the Sea Eagles did not lose competition points is that they are apparently under the cap this year. But the penalties imposed on this year and next year’s caps have left the Sea Eagles in a lot of trouble, particularly after the number of injuries they have had this season – and the season is still young.

The cold, hard reality for Trent Barrett is that on Tuesday he needs to select 21 players. He has only 21 players left to pick from.

And the big question is: will Barrett select Jackson Hastings, who was recently been banished to play for the Blacktown Workers in the InTrust Super Premiership, in part for his involvement in an incident with Daly Cherry-Evans in Gladstone a couple of weeks ago?

This situation intrigues me. There are, by all accounts, plenty of challenging characters in rugby league. I understand that. The reality is that not everyone in a team is going to get along with everyone else.

But how can it be that Hastings is the most challenging of all the challenging characters? I don’t know Hastings, but I’m struggling to understand how he can be deemed such a problem, particularly after several Manly players have come out and said that they would be happy to play with him.

Jackson Hastings warming up with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

(AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

Something doesn’t add up here, particularly when Hastings was banished while Cherry-Evans continues to play first grade after copping a fine for the role he played at Gladstone.

Hastings, of course, was said on Sunday to now be available for selection again, Gorman saying publicly that he would be included in the club’s squad to play the Roosters this week.

This would potentially be an embarrassing backflip for Barrett after telling the media that he had no intention of including Hastings in his first-grade squad for the rest of the year.

The loss to the Knights was the Sea Eagles’ sixth in eight rounds, and it doesn’t get much easier from here, with their next game against the desperate Roosters next Sunday.

We can describe their performances as brave, but that won’t be enough to get their season back on track. What worries me the most is that there is a financial penalty also imposed on next year’s cap, so I query whether 2019 will also be just as difficult for the club, particularly when they look to sign new talent.

One final comment: there’s this idea in rugby league that for the game and clubs to be successful you need ‘rugby league’ people in positions of power. Apparently ‘rugby league’ people are mostly thought of as people who have played the game.

We need to be very careful with this line of thinking.

The reality is that there is a place in footy for everyone, but you need to find your place, whether it be as a player, a board member, an administrator, a fan, a cheerleader or a member.

Ex-footy players will not always be the most appropriate people to have involved in positions of power at our clubs, and I would argue that this has in part contributed to the strife Manly find themselves in now and indeed the strife that Parramatta also found themselves in a few years ago.

Our clubs are multimillion-dollar businesses and this needs to be remembered when we are making decisions about them.

As for the poor Sea Eagles, I know it’s trendy as a footy fan to dislike the Silvertails, but spare a thought for their fans, who are looking down the barrel of a very difficult 2018 – and it’s only the end of Round 8.