Monday Buzz: Manly in turmoil on and off the field
THERE should be genuine concern in the NRL about the long-term future of the Manly Sea Eagles.
This is a club in turmoil on and off the field.
A crowd of 5700 on Friday evening for their clash with the Newcastle Knights was an embarrassment to the code.
Forget the unpopular 6pm kick-off time, this was an indication that even their most ardent supporters have given up on a club with a rotten culture.
The salary cap rorting, strip clubs, the victimisation of a young player, poor on-field form, poor leadership, no money and little hope.
This is also a club with a higher executive turnover than any in the premiership.
We often have the debate about whether Sydney is big enough to host nine clubs against one-team, one-city outfits such as the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm.
Clubs like the Canterbury Bulldogs and Parramatta Eels can afford poor years and tough times.
They are backed by massive leagues clubs that can pour in up to $10 million annually to prop up the football team in the bad years when costs blow out.
Whether the Penn family at Manly can, or is prepared to, do the same remains to be seen.
Look at Brookvale Oval. It's far and away the worst venue in the NRL, almost unfit to be hosting games in an era where fans want comfortable seats and easy access to toilets and food outlets.
These days it's too easy to stay home and watch live footy on television.
Ideally, the NRL would like Manly to take home games to the new Allianz Stadium when it is completed in 2021.
Manly could do the same as the Wests Tigers, who play three games at Leichhardt Oval.
Yet their supporters are renowned non-travellers and it is unlikely to work.
Look at their training facilities in Narrabeen and how the staff have to work out of demountable offices which are more like a high school PE department than facilities for a modern-day professional sporting franchise.
Look at Penrith and their $25 million academy. Same with the Broncos.
Look at the wonderful new stadium the Parramatta Eels will play out of next season.
Manly are that far behind, it's not funny.
For years, Manly's on-field success has masked the longer-term big-picture issues.
There has not been a more successful Sydney club in the past 10 years.
They have made the semi-finals for eight years, the top four five times and played in three grand finals, winning two.
Yet this year is already a write-off. They will need to win 12 of their last 15 games to finish on 30 points, the cut-off for last year's finals series.
It's very easy to blame injuries and lack of depth but this is something they have brought on themselves through coach Trent Barrett's stubborn refusal to pick Jackson Hastings and for having to play $350,000 under the salary cap this year and next season for cheating.
Look at their draw over the next three weeks - the Roosters, Broncos and Storm. Dear oh dear. It could be mathematically impossible before June.
The problem Manly face in the long term is that the NRL is no longer in a position to bail out clubs. Teams now get $13 million grants, more than 30 per cent higher than the salary cap, and there will be no more St George Illawarra-type loans. The next club to fall over will be replaced by an expansion team.
No one wants that to happen to the Sea Eagles. This is a wonderful old club, but history doesn't pay the bills.
The NRL is now a business more than a sport and only the professional and well-administered outfits will survive. That is the brutal reality.