Trent Barrett has wasted little time adjusting to life as a Manly coach, declaring the Auckland Nines to be "dangerous" and saying the NRL was taking risks with players' welfare after the Sea Eagles hopes for the tournament and beyond were dashed through injury.
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Manly take two big scalps at NRL Nines but at a cost
Manly, Melbourne and Cronulla are the only teams to remain unbeaten after day one of the NRL Auckland Nines but the Sea Eagles are counting the cost with skipper Jake Trobjevic and utility Jamie Buhrer ruled out for the remainder of the tournament with injury.
Manly suffered a horrific injury toll as they finished the tournament one player short with Jamie Buhrer, Jorge Taufua, Jake Trbojevic, Jayden Hodges and Nathan Green sidelined. Manly were not the only team hit by injury, with Cameron Munster, Jack De Belin, Alex Johnston and Chris Lawrence also being hurt. Barrett's hopes of bringing in an emergency player were quashed by the NRL, as the Sea Eagles were denied a request to play the uncapped Dylan Kelly.
By so doing, the NRL earned the ire of Barrett, who took over from Geoff Toovey at the Sea Eagles this season. While the rant was not Toovey-like, a measured Barrett could not hide his disappointment after he saw his side eliminated 24-4 in the quarter-finals against the Gold Coast.
"You have to come but there is a reason why you don't bring your [Daly] Cherry-Evans, [Brett] Stewarts," Barrett said. "It's dangerous and it's risky because of the back-up factor and the fatigue factor.
"We go on about player welfare but there seems to be little regard for player welfare in this case. I know there are rules but it can't be that black and white. I thought we had grounds to play Dylan Kelly from a compassionate point of view and from a welfare point of view because it put so much pressure on our side. We saw it at the end, they were out on their feet. We couldn't rest anyone. Matt Purcell missed five minutes of the whole tournament. It's a massive risk."
Hodges is expected to miss the entire season with fears he ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament, while Buhrer will miss about three games after suffering a fractured jaw. The injuries bring back painful memories for Barrett, who missed the start of the 2003 NRL season after breaking his ankle at the now-defunct World Sevens tournament while playing for St George-Illawarra.
Barrett said his team's loss came as a "relief".
"It's just a worry," Barrett said. "You don't prepare the players to play five games in a day. When you run out of players, you have guys playing more minutes than they have. It's just a huge risk.
"It can have a huge impact on your season. We've lost our back-up hooker for the season, which hurts us. We've lost Jamie Buhrer for at least three games. Jake will probably miss the trials with concussion. It's a good advertisement for the game but, from our point of view, it's a massive risk for the players.
"It's disappointing especially under the fashion we lost those two players. We had a knee to the head for Jake and a high tackle which broke Jamie's jaw. We lost players from foul play. The pressure that put on the rest of the squad, who had to play more minutes, that's when you get injuries."
Taufua strained his hamstring prior to the tournament but the NRL said they were not told of the injury until Saturday. Despite teams officially needing to be named last Tuesday, there were grounds to alter squads should injuries occur. Squads were raised by two players to 18 this year, while each game featured just 14 players instead of 16.
NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said there was no provision in the tournament rules for 19 players.
"Based on feedback from the clubs, we increased the size of the squads from 16 to 18 for this tournament," Greenberg said. "All squads except Manly have brought 18 players and it would be unfair on those other clubs if an exception was made."
Barrett wants the NRL to introduce an emergency player rule should the injury woes be repeated next year, after promising to keep his stars in cotton wool for the 2017 tournament.
"I'd certainly have no dramas if another team had serious injuries and drafted two players into their squad," Barrett said. "I'm fine with that and I'm sure the other coaches would be as well.
"Because it not only affects the numbers and the quality of the footy, it puts your players at risk when you can't interchange them because you've got no one sitting on the sideline.
"You've got them backing up for every game. If we would've got through and made the grand final we couldn't rest a player and, mate, then you're asking for [injuries to] hamstrings, quads, calves and all sorts of things."
1 Alex Johnston (South Sydney, shoulder. Needs scans).
2 Yaw Kiti Glymin (St George-Illawarra, hamstring, about a month)
3 Corey Oats (Brisbane, back spasms, monitored).
4 John Folau (Parramatta, hamstring, scans).
5 Jorge Taufua (Manly, hamstring, one week).
6 Cameron Munster (Melbourne, knee, four to six weeks).
7 Josh Drinkwater (Wests Tigers, ankle, scans).
8 Jake Trbojevic (Manly, concussion, expected to miss this week's trial).
9 Jayden Hodges (Manly, knee, season).
10 Jack De Belin (St George Illawarra, thigh, in doubt for Charity Shield on Saturday).
11 Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers, hip, should be OK).
12 Kyle Turner (South Sydney, shoulder, should be OK).
13 Jamie Buhrer (Manly, fractured jaw, expected to miss three NRL games).
14 Manu Ma'u (Parramatta, hamstring, should be OK).
15 Sione Katoa (Penrith, knee, four to six weeks).
16 Nathan Green (Manly, concussion, should be OK).
17 Tyler Cassel (Wests Tigers, concussion, should be OK).
18th man: Carlin Anderson (Brisbane, virus, should be OK).