Manly is facing a fresh selection and salary cap drama with Moses Suli in danger of being pulled from his Sea Eagles debut unless he is given a contract upgrade.
It was another dramatic day on the northern beaches as it emerged that Jackson Hastings' exile would continue.
Hastings was named on an extended bench for Sunday's match against Sydney Roosters but despite being the next best credentialled playmaker following Lachlan Croker's season-ending injury, the 22-year-old is again expected to be snubbed and feature instead for feeder team Blacktown.
While Dylan Walker is set to shift from the centres and partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves, Hastings might not be the only high-profile figure again stuck in reserve grade.
The Sea Eagles asked for, and were granted, an exemption to name Suli for the Roosters encounter due to the clubs injury crisis. Under the new contracting rules players outside the top-30 squad can only be considered in exceptional circumstances, a situation that applies to the 19-year-old. At the moment his contract status is as a development player, but the NRL approved the move because there were no fit top-30 contracted players capable of filling in at centre.
Suli's management, however, has an agreement that he be elevated into the top 30 – with a wage befitting that status – before he makes his debut for the club.
There were a series of frantic calls between Manly and Sulis manager on Tuesday after the teenager was named on Manlys team list, but no deal had been struck. Unless a suitable upgrade is forthcoming Suli will be pulled from the round-nine match.
The Sea Eagles are already under huge salary cap pressure but they will have little option than to meet Sulis demands or face the prospect of playing someone out of position in a must-win game.
It is another chapter in the colourful story of Suli, who made headlines when he signed a $1.3 million deal with Wests Tigers before he had played a single NRL game. After a promising start to his NRL career, the three-quarter was moved on from the Tigers and then Canterbury within the space of a month over attitude problems, although he has fitted in well since shifting to Manly.
The latest development came with the Sea Eagles already struggling to field a team and still reeling from the Hastings saga. Hastings was nowhere to be found at Manly training on Tuesday, and senior Sea Eagle Jake Trbojevic was straight to the point when he said: "He's unlikely to play."
Trbojevic backed the stance taken by coach Trent Barrett, who banished Hastings to the Intrust Super Premiership following a clash with captain Cherry-Evans on an away trip to Gladstone last month.
"(Hastings) has got a few mates in the squad, I guess, who he hangs out with, which he always has. I'm not too sure,'' Trbojevic said.
"He's been training out at Blacktown and playing for them. He wasn't at training today. It's not my decision, but I'd say he's unlikely [to play Sunday].
"We're all professionals and we'll play alongside anyone. Obviously it's the coach's decision. We've always backed 'Baz' and always will. He's a great man.
"He's made some decisions lately that I fully support. He's doing a great job for us and he's the right man to lead us out of this.''
Trbojevic is regarded as one of the game's genuine good guys, so it was a shock when he was given 10 minutes in the sin bin last Friday for dissent. He felt so bad that he made a point of apologising to the whistleblowers afterwards.
Trbojevic admitted the turmoil at Manly had taken its toll.
"Obviously it wasn't something I was proud of, and it wasn't a good look, but with the last few weeks it all boiled over,'' Trbojevic said.
"And we were in that game, I thought we were going to win. We did a few things poorly, which didn't help.
"Everyone is working hard, the coaches are working hard, and then you see people are into them and into your teammates, and you want to win for each other. It is frustrating.''
Barrett gave the players a rare spray during a video session before training where ''egos got hurt''.
Joel Thompson said it was warranted because ''we've been dishing up bullshit''.
As for Hastings, Thompson said he had been at two different clubs when coaches were sacked, but nothing topped the recent drama on the northern beaches.
“All these excuses with off-field stuff – at the end of the day it's an 80-minute game and we need to get out there and do what the coaches want,'' Thompson said.
"We haven't been doing that. We had the video session…we got a little touch-up, we got flogged, no surprise there, a bit of bash-up and then our football stuff looked good."
Thompson and Trbojevic were full of praise for the way Walker trained in the halves.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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