Manly owner Scott Penn has opened up on the tumultuous year at the club, revealing star halfback Daly Cherry-Evans would not have backflipped on his Gold Coast deal had they not made significant changes in the football department within the club.
In a forthright interview with Fairfax Media, Penn spoke about the club's drama-plagued 2015 campaign, addressing the issues of player unrest, the implications of the Glenn Stewart contract saga and how an SOS to Bob Fulton led to Trent Barrett's arrival at the club.
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With the club coming to terms with the fact it had seemingly just lost Kieran Foran to Parramatta and Cherry-Evans to the Titans, it took a drastic shake-up behind closed doors to convince Cherry-Evans to renege on his lucrative deal with the Gold Coast before round 13 last year.
"Yes, definitely," Penn said when asked if significant changes in the football department had to made to keep Cherry-Evans. "There is no question we had to paint that picture. We had to paint a picture for the future that was going to be exciting enough for him to stay. Other clubs were putting forward compelling alternatives to what we were.
"It was an indictment on the structure we had at the time. We weren't giving Daly and Kieran the hope we were going to be the long-term successful organisation we wanted to be. That's pretty damning when you can't retain your marquees because they can't see where the club is going."
The Penn family gained 90 per cent ownership of the Sea Eagles in October 2014 after a $6 million buy out of Quantum's share in the club, just a month after former coach Geoff Toovey's second-placed team had been bundled out of the finals in straight sets.
For Penn, that is when the alarm bells began ringing, noticing a change in attitude among the playing group.
With money ready to spend, the Manly chairman approached Toovey on the eve of the 2015 season, demanding "significant changes" to the club's football operations having already begun sounding out potential coaching replacements, including Parramatta coach Brad Arthur.
Penn had also received feedback from Cherry-Evans and Foran about the club's football program, searching for direction as they looked to secure their futures.
"I remember meeting with Geoff before the start of the season and I said to him 'I'm happy to leave it in your hands, but we need to make significant changes'," Penn said.
"I was absolutely clear and said 'I don't want to be having this conversation in seven weeks time when we're zero and seven or one and six because it's going to be a really difficult conversation'. I said those exact words to him and literally seven weeks later we were one and six. And nothing had changed. That wasn't a position I wanted to be in. But you can't keep doing the same things if you want a different result."
Fairfax Media broke the news of Barrett's agreement with the Sea Eagles in May last year when it looked like the then-Penrith assistant would be brought in as Toovey's right-hand man mid-season with a view to taking over in 2016.
However given Toovey's status at the club, Penn admits it was out of respect that he was allowed to see out the year.
"Geoff's a life member at the club and is loved by all," Penn said. "We didn't want to disrespect that. We wanted to make sure he had the chance to turn things around and go on his terms. This was never personal. I felt it was the right thing for him and the club to give him a bit of a swansong."
WHY BOB FULTON RETURNED TO POWER
Before Penn's meeting with Toovey, he approached Fulton for advice. The club was still holding out hope it would turn the corner under Toovey, but they also begun planning for a changing of the guard.
"We sat down and said 'we need help'," Penn said of his meeting with Fulton. "Dad [owner Rick Penn] and I sat down with him and said we were at a loss on how to fix this. We knew structurally what to do, but we needed someone who knew all the ins and outs of the game. And there's none better.
"We couldn't have done it without him. Bob's an amazing man. He's a winner. That's the culture we need at this club."
WHY GLENN STEWART'S DEPARTURE TORE THE CLUB APART
Factions began to form during the club's much-publicised handling of Glenn Stewart. In the end an offer was never put forward to the club legend, who couldn't knock back a lucrative deal from South Sydney.
"Decisions were being made at the board that we didn't have control of at the time," Penn said.
"From our point of view, we would have made different decisions based on loyalty. It's not to say it wouldn't have had an impact somewhere else. Definitely with Glenn, we were very firm on a process that we wanted to occur, and that process didn't happen. That was the catalyst for the disruption at the club.
"We were adamant that we needed to put forward an offer to Glenn. And even though it wasn't a great offer, we were adamant that still needed to occur out of respect for him. That's what caused the factions among the group. He felt like we didn't want him. But that's not how we operate. From a cultural point of view, it was significantly disruptive to the club."
His brother Brett, as well as Anthony Watmough and Steve Matai, were left disgruntled by the club's decision. It caused unrest among the playing group, some of whom blamed Cherry-Evans for Stewart's departure.
But Penn insists the rift between Brett Stewart and Cherry-Evans has been resolved.
"There were issues a few years back over the way certain managers handled contract negotiations ... but they are fine now," Penn said.
"The fact is it probably wasn't handled well at the time, but it's in the past and they've dealt with it. There were other well-documented issues that Choc [Watmough] had with him as well. There was tension but it has been resolved now.
"That's been an important process for us, that Brett is treated with the respect he deserves within the club. I think that's certainly turned around. He's happy. Every conversation I've had with him has been about how much things have changed, how great the mood is. I've never seen him so excited about a season. He's a good barometer of where we're at."