Manly put on united front but rumours persist
Any attacking threats posed by the Warriors were irrelevant at Manly training today as players united on the defensive amid rumours of a rift in the squad and stars wanting to quit the club.
Kieran Foran looked like he would rather attempt a try-saving tackle on Manu Vatuvei at Mt Smart on Sunday than front a media scrum following reports that three veterans, including former Kiwis international Steve Matai, want to leave the premierships contenders at the end of the season.
At least Foran did not face the inquisition armed with a tree branch, like ultimately placid wing Jorge Taufua.
The Sea Eagles and Kiwis five-eighth was clearly uncomfortable but was candid enough to admit the club's failure to re-sign South Sydney-bound back rower Glenn Stewart has had repercussions among the playing group.
"I think the club underestimated Glenn Stewart's departure. We said all along 'Gif' (Stewart) was a massive part of building this culture here.
"As players we probably felt he deserved a contract put in front of him," Foran said.
Matai, who is supposedly interested in ending his career at the Warriors, has already had a request for a release turned down.
Stewart's brother Brett and second rower Anthony Watmough are also reportedly seeking releases before their deals expire in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
Foran would not speculate on the duo's futures but felt Matai should be free to exit before his contract expired at the end of 2015 if he has another deal in place.
"In Stevie's situation I believe he's taken 'unders' for a lot of years now to stay at this club and I think he if can now set his family up and get a big money contract elsewhere the club should assess it," he said.
"A lot of boys (have taken 'unders'). There's been a lot of sacrifices from a lot those older boys to keep the group together."
That core, which also includes Jamie Lyon, Jason King and Foran, has guided the Sea Eagles to four grand finals in seven years but is now at risk of fragmenting as a 10th straight post-season campaign looms.
"There are issues to be sorted," conceded Foran, though he insisted there was no split within the playing group.
"I think results have shown on the field we're getting on good here. I wouldn't say there's disharmony."
However, rumours that Daly Cherry-Evans is offside with senior teammates persist because the halfback was not among players willing to take a pay cut to keep the roster together despite salary cap pressure.
Cherry-Evans, who is off-contract at the end of next season and already targeted by Parramatta, confirmed he had not agreed to a reduced deal.
"No, I haven't been in the NRL long enough to do that sort of stuff," he said, unfazed that he had been portrayed as a divisive figure.
"I'm very happy. I just try not to read the papers and hose down these sort of situations best as possible because I don't feel it's necessary."
Like Foran he denied the ructions would impact on the competition leaders' performance against the Warriors.
"There's been adversity in this club for a long time but we always find a way to get out the other end," he said.
Meanwhile, it is one-test Kiwi Peta Hiku's task to keep Vatuvei in check as he marks the barnstorming wing for the first time.
"I was fullback last year. This time I think it'll just be me and him .... I hope it doesn't happen that way," he said.