Manly boss David Perry has gone to the NRL over concerns rival clubs are illegally approaching his star players with inducements to break their current contracts.
Sea Eagles gamebreakers Anthony Watmough, Brett Stewart and Steve Matai are believed to have asked the club for releases from the final year of their contracts, while rivals are already queuing up for the services of Queensland playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans. All of them are contracted to Manly until the end of next year.
Under NRL rules, rival clubs are allowed to approach player managers at any time, but only to discuss signings for periods after a player's current contract lapses.
However, Sea Eagles powerbrokers suspect their players are being pressured into asking for releases with a view to taking up big-money offers elsewhere.
"That is a concern, I spoke to the NRL today about it," Perry said.
"They will be keeping a close eye on certain processes to ensure everyone is working within the NRL guidelines.
"When you've got a player roster like ours, players will always be in demand. I don't blame other clubs for being interested in our players but I've got concerns around [how that is done]. That's something the NRL will have to look at, it's not my position to do it."
The NRL said it was not investigating any issues at present, as no evidence of breaches have been presented. But it would be almost impossible for a 'holding' club to prove that a rival was discussing a deal for, say, next year if they claimed they were negotiating for the following season.
"It's not my role to start drilling down into who is saying what," Perry said.
"I'm disappointed it has created half of these issues. If people work within those parameters, we probably won't be in this situation in regards to certain players.
"It's not just an NRL rule, it's the law - you can't induce people to break contracts."
As revealed by Fairfax Media last week, Parramatta have made Cherry-Evans their top recruitment priority. The Eels are also hopeful of adding Watmough to their forward pack, although they almost certainly won't be able to nab them both given their much-publicised falling out.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur coached them during his stint as an assistant at Manly last year and they are thought to be close. There is no suggestion the blue and golds, who are only considering the duo when they become available on the open market, have acted improperly.
It's believed there is residual unrest at Manly over the decision not to offer Glenn Stewart a contract extension for next year. Stewart subsequently signed with South Sydney, while brother Brett's decision to sell a property he owned on the Northern Beaches further fuelled speculation he would follow suit.
Perry confirmed that Matai had previously asked for a release but said "there have been no formal requests" from Watmough or Brett Stewart.
Earlier this month, Matai was quoted as saying: "Glenn and I are quite close and the Warriors had put an offer through.
"I sat back, thought about it and realised it might be a good move for me and my family. It's a long-term contract and could be my last. I'm turning 30 this year. I've already asked the club for a release for next year. We'll see how everything unfolds and I might find myself over there."
Despite the dramas, the Sea Eagles remain on top of the competition ladder after defeating St George Illawarra on Monday night.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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