Two-time Manly premiership winner Michael Robertson, a former Canberra junior, says the Sea Eagles have been “lucky” to retain the senior core of their squad as the salary cap continues to bite.
A chronic hip injury has forced Robertson into early retirement, the 31-year-old unable to take the field for his final contracted season with the London Broncos in the Super League this year.
Robertson played in three grand finals with the Sea Eagles between 2007 and 2011, scoring three tries in Manly’s 2008 triumph over Melbourne and signing off in the NRL by scoring the club’s final points in its 2011 grand final win over the New Zealand Warriors.
He was part of a golden era for the Silvertails, who have played in four of the past seven grand finals.
But with veteran prop Brent Kite forced out at the end of last season and Manly now struggling to retain Glenn Stewart and "The Wolfman" David Williams, Robertson believes keeping the successful squad together will become tougher.
“He [Stewart] is one of the senior players in that team and there’s plenty of them,” Robertson said. “That’s been the secret to their success, they’ve kept a core group of players together for so long.
“I’m sure 'Kitey' would have loved to play his career there but the salary cap puts pressure on clubs and players. It makes it hard to keep a team, and Manly’s been pretty lucky to keep that core group of players together for so long.”
Robertson also feels lucky, despite returning to England last week for medical confirmation his rugby league career is over.
In 2001, as an 18-year-old Valley Dragons junior, Robertson was one of the youngest players to make his debut at the Raiders.
He played 59 of his 209 NRL matches at the Raiders before seeking a release from the final year of his deal in Canberra to join Manly in 2006.
"It was disappointing to leave [Canberra] but it was an opportunity to kick-start my career a bit,” Robertson recalled.
“Matty Elliott was coaching and I was in and out of first grade a fair bit. [Another Raiders junior] Mick Monaghan actually called me and said 'there’s an opportunity at Manly next season, do you want to go?'
“Things happen for a reason ... to debut with the team you supported your whole life, then to get the opportunity to play at another club in the NRL, it all worked out pretty good."
Robertson was also a victim of the salary cap when at Manly, although he chose to leave the NRL on his terms. He turned down another year at the Sea Eagles to join the Super League after 2011, playing 41 games for the Broncos.
He had surgery on a nagging hip injury nine months ago, expecting to recover in four months, but doctors discovered his condition was worse than anticipated.
Back in Canberra, the father of two – Kobe, 2, and Emily, 1 – said he was unlikely to play in the local Canberra Raiders Cup.
“It’s pretty much bone on bone in there,” Robertson said of the hip joint.
“The surgeon has pretty much said footy is done with. I went over there last week to England, so the news is still pretty fresh.
“At some stage later in life I’ll probably need a hip replacement, but the better I look after it the longer I can put that off.
“I’ve got a couple of kids now so I’d rather have a run around with them than get my butt kicked playing footy.”