The Manly Sea Eagles started the 2018 NRL season under a cloud due to salary cap drama. Due to the investigation they missed out on signing gun halfback Mitchell Pearce, and were forced to settle for journeyman Jackson Hastings, who was unwanted at the Roosters. From there, it has only gotten worse.
While the club was not over the cap this year, the effective retirement of Brett Stewart and Steve Matai (while they were still under contract) meant that the limit on player salaries was very stretched in 2016 and 17, with the club breaching it in the end.
The investigation into the breach meant that the Sea Eagles were unable to bring in any high profile recruits, and they are being forced to play hundreds of thousands of dollars under the cap for the next two years. Still, with much the same squad that came 6th last year Manly were expected to again be in the mix for top 8 spots.
The Manly side started the season well enough, winning their first two games at “Fortress Brookie” comfortably. Since then, however, the wheels have come off. After a loss to the Titans in Gladstone a number of players (who have not been named by the club) breached curfew to go to a strip club, for which they have each been fined $10,000.
After the players returned to the team hotel, Hastings and team captain Daly Cherry-Evans had a scuffle. Cherry-Evans has also been fined by the club. This was not the first altercation Hastings has had with his teammates, and he is set to play the rest of the season in reserve grade.
At the same time, the Sea Eagles were thrashed by Wests Tigers at their home ground. Last weekend they also suffered an embarrassing loss to Parramatta, who recorded their first win of the season. A number of players have reportedly also messaged Hastings and told journalists that they support him. This has served to undermine coach Trent Barrett’s authority.
Interestingly, star fullback Tom Trbojevic has strongly supported his coach. The team is built around the Trbojevic brothers and Cherry-Evans, who are the three best players as well as the leaders. If Hastings is offside with them, he will not return to the squad. Barrett’s job will also be safe for as long as the big three support him.
This weekend an under siege Sea Eagles will take on a Pearce-less Knights at Lottoland. If they lose this match their season could well be over. However, as we have seen countless times over the years, Manly are never better than when they are under fire from all sides. It’s not for nothing that the club’s supporters live by the slogan “nobody likes us and we don’t care”!