Sea Eagles downplay speculation of depatures
Manly Sea Eagles management have downplayed reports that three stars, including former Kiwis centre Steve Matai, want early releases from the NRL club as the competition leaders continue to show no signs of disharmony on the field.
Matai reiterated his intention to leave Brookvale a year ahead of schedule following last night's victory over St George Illawarra - a move motivated by apparent interest from the Warriors and dissatisfaction about Manly's refusal to retain veteran second rower Glenn Stewart.
South Sydney-bound in 2015, Stewart's departure has angered senior players with Matai and Anthony Watmough reportedly keen to cut ties with the club.
Stewart's brother Brett is almost said to be unhappy that his sibling has been offloaded and is also considering options to play elsewhere.
Manly chief executive David Perry admitted the decision to allow Stewart to take up the Rabbitohs' offer had impacted on senior players but insisted the trio had not made formal approaches to leave prematurely.
"There's been some changes and even though they're small changes in terms of numbers, the impact on the club and the senior players has been great," he told Sky Sports Radio.
"We've been managing that the best we can. I've seen no formal requests come across my desk in relation to releasing players."
However, he did confirm the club had discussions with Matai after he reportedly received a four-year offer from the Warriors - Manly's opponents at Mt Smart on Sunday - that would enable the 29-year-old to play out his career on home soil.
"There was a discussion about Steve based on the fact he was in demand from another club and the offer was significant," Perry said.
During those talks head coach Geoff Toovey said he was not prepared to release Matai and despite the club favourite repeating he wanted out after the Dragons were beaten 21-12, Perry believed he would actually agree to a contract extension.
"We've been talking to Steve's management .... and we're looking towards another extension for Steve Matai and I believe everyone is optimistic about that."
Perry acknowledged Brett Stewart and Watmough were also in demand from rival clubs but expected the duo to fulfil their existing contracts while the club was working to lock-in halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who will test the market from November 1.
Kangaroos and New South Wales' representative Watmough, meanwhile, did little to quell speculation that he wanted to leave the club when responding: "Those rumours have been floating around for a few weeks, we're just worrying about playing footy."
Toovey was reluctant to comment on the future of Stewart, Matai and Watmough other than offering: "As far as I know, they'll be here next year."
He said suggestions of discord would not destabilise last year's beaten finalists as they attempt to make another premiership decider in October.
"Everyone keeps trying to bring this club down. We will continue on. This year is going extremely well for us," he said.
That upbeat assessment was backed by the naming of a largely unchanged line-up for the round 20 clash with the seventh-placed Warriors.
The only change from a side seeking a third straight victory is James Hasson returning to the bench for Tyson Andrews.
Manly Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon (captain), Steve Matai, Peta Hiku, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Starling, Matt Ballin, Brenton Lawrence, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Buhrer, Tom Symonds. Interchange: Jesse Sene-Lefao, Dunamis Lui, James Hasson, Jason King.