The NRL is threatening Manly with fines and the stripping of competition points if the club does not comply with an edict to stand down John Hopoate as coach of its SG Ball team.
The governing body prepared a breach notice outlining a fine of $30,000, plus an additional $10,000 penalty for every week Hopoate mentors the under-18s team. The sanction was discussed during crisis talks between the NRL and the club on Friday, but the breach notice was not served after Manly powerbrokers agreed to stand Hopoate down.
Fairfax Media has been told the NRL's integrity unit boss Nick Weeks also threatened to strip the club of premiership points if Manly was to remain obstinate during talks also involving the NRL's head of football,Todd Greenberg, Manly chief executive Joe Kelly and club chairman Scott Penn.
"We have advice ... that we cannot ignore when making this determination," a NRL spokesman said.
NRL and Manly officials also met several weeks ago with Wayne Walpole, a detective inspector from the NSW Police. Walpole expressed his concerns about Hopoate, who has been banned from The Star casino, mentoring teenagers.
"I pointed out that the commissioner of police had excluded Hopoate from the casino in July and that's a decision not taken lightly. The holdings we have to make that decision are confidential," Walpole told Fairfax Media on Friday.
"There is open-sourced information about his links to organised crime figures and I thought Manly needed to take that into account."
However, Sea Eagles powerbrokers are concerned that Walpole, citing confidentiality issues, could not provide specifics to back up his claims. The situation could have come to a flashpoint over the weekend, but Manly's SG Ball team had the bye. All eyes will be on next Saturday's clash with Canberra at Brookvale Oval to see if Hopoate makes an appearance.
The threat of losing competition points - one of several sanctions at the NRL's disposal - is the same one hanging over arch rivals Parramatta. The Eels will go into the season two wins behind their rivals if they do not comply with corporate governance reforms set out by the NRL following salary cap breaches in 2014. Should Hopoate report for duty, and head office follows through with their threats to both clubs, it will have major consequences for the integrity of the competition.
While the NRL believes Hopoate is not a "fit and proper person" for registration, they may still be powerless to stop him from taking up the clipboard. Manly have sought the counsel of legal eagles Julieanne Levick and Tim Unsworth and it is understood their advice suggests the NRL has no jurisdiction over the NSWRL-run competition. Whether the Sea Eagles are prepared to challenge the NRL over the matter remains to be seen.
Hopoate is set to be forced out of another footy gig in coming days. The former NSW and Australian winger has been a part of the Tongan national team's coaching staff but is likely to be forced to stood down.
"The NRL will require Tonga to ensure its coaching staff are registered with the NRL," the NRL spokesman said.
Tongan coach Kristian Woolf was unaware of the drama surrounding Hopoate when contacted on Saturday.
"All I can say is that anything he has done for Tonga has been outstanding," Woolf said.
"His integrity, in terms of why he is there, I can't fault him one bit. That's all I can judge him on.
"I'd like to have him involved again, but in saying that we're governed by the NRL and I haven't heard from them as yet. Whether he is allowed to be involved, I'd have to discuss with them.
"He gives a lot of time and effort, he's got a lot of passion for Tongan rugby league and been very good for us."
Hopoate has been a controversial figure during and after his NRL career. He served a record 45 weeks of suspension during his career, including a 12-match stint on the sidelines for inserting his finger up the anuses of North Queensland players.