Manly player Brett Stewart.
Manly player Brett Stewart. DAVE HUNT

Manly legends set to retire due to injuries

MANLY has all but brought the curtain down on the champion careers of Brett Stewart and Steve Matai, but they face an uphill battle in getting their salaries excluded from the 2017 salary cap.

The club confirmed via a statement on Friday afternoon that they are in talks with the NRL, RLPA and the pair's respective managers on approving their retirement from the game due to ongoing injuries.

As revealed last month, neither Stewart or Matai returned to Sea Eagles training at the start of 2017 after both were sidelined midway through last season.

Stewart has battled chronic knee injuries that severely hampered both his playing time and form in 2016, while Matai has dealt with various neck, shoulder and back injuries throughout his 230-game career.

With both players are understood to be on back-ended contracts, Manly could struggle to receive salary cap dispensation from the NRL for the final year of their respective deals.

The club must prove that neither injury was not pre-existing when either Matai or Stewart signed their last deals with the club, otherwise their wages will count towards the Sea Eagles' salary cap for 2017.

Complicating that decision is the fact it's likely to land with the NRL's chief medical officer Dr Paul Bloomfield, who was the Sea Eagles club doctor for over a decade and the majority of both Stewart and Matai's careers.

Stewart inked a two-year extension with the only club he has ever known in August 2015, but has only managed 13 games in the 18 months since.

Matai, meanwhile, penned a new Manly deal six months earlier having previously requested a release to join the Warriors, and has played 27 of 48 possible games for the maroon and whites since.

Both clocked at least 18 games a year between 2011 and 2015.

It was Dr Bloomfield who last season ruled Anthony Watmough, a former premiership-winning teammate of Matai and Stewart's at Manly, to be medically retired in the midst of Parramatta's salary cap scandal.

That decision ensured that the final three years of Watmough's estimated $700,000 deal with the Eels did not count towards the club's cap, and was critical in getting them back in the black and playing for competition points last season.

Watmough's situation has since been complicated by insurance company QBE rejecting a $1.2 million payout on the grounds that his injury was pre-existing, and the retired forward vowed to return to training to ensure he received his payout from Parramatta.

The Watmough saga, along with other cases across the game, pushed the NRL to scrutinise "long-term contracts for older players towards the end of their careers to minimise the risk of career-ending injuries resulting in big payouts", according to a statement in August last year.

Under revised NRL rules around medically retiring players, Matai and Stewart could receive full cap-exempt payment of their salaries.

The previous 2013 collective bargainin agreement meant clubs were only liable for 25% of a player's contract if they were unable to play a game due to injury.

With the veteran pair playing crucial roles in the Manly's 2008 and 2011 title wins, as well as a combined 462 games, the Sea Eagles have vowed to "give the players a dignified and respectful exit from their brilliant careers".

"Manly Sea Eagles are working with the management of both players to give them the farewell they deserve in front of their thousands of adoring fans," the club's statement said.

News Corp Australia

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