Trent Barrett has a battle on his hands to get the struggling Sea Eagles back on track, according to Willie Mason, who has never seen players show such little respect for a coach.
But the Bulldogs premiership player says all is not lost for the club despite six players’ transgressions creating a major headache early in a season already looming as a struggle.
Jackson Hastings is unlikely to play for Manly again, while Daly Cherry-Evans and five other players were fined following a controversial night out in Gladstone.
The headlines lasted all week before the Sea Eagles were subsequently thrashed by Parramatta, and now Mason has weighed in with brutal honesty.
“Six people have gone out. Trent Barrett’s gone ‘here’s a curfew’. And that’s just the biggest f*** you to a coach that I’ve ever seen,” Mason said on SkipiTV.
“I’ve seen it done back at some clubs that I was at before when we were younger and nobody could tell us really what to do.
“It was like ‘oh, you get home at 10.’ Nah, we’re going to get home at 12 or 1 or 2. It’s that pack mentality when you’re out and you’re having a couple of beers and you’re getting beat and everyone’s getting pissed off.
“You’re pissed off at the coach, you’re pissed off at the trainers, you’re pissed off at players.
“Everything just seems to be all boiled up. That’s when you start breaking curfews and you just pretty much tell everyone to beat it and you’re just going to run your own race.
“And that’s the worst thing that can happen to Trent Barrett is his team imploding and having no respect for him or the club.”
Mason played at five NRL clubs, had two Super League stints and made numerous representative teams over his long career.
After nearly 150 games with Canterbury in his early 20s, the Clive Churchill medallist bounced around and went through a number of coaches.
And none were as forthright as Wayne Bennett.
“He never put a curfew on anybody. He just thinks he’s coaching grown-ass men. And he trusts you, so you trust him.
“And if he says ‘be home at a certain time’ – he never put a curfew on you, he’d just say ‘look, get home at 12 or one, two, something like that’. He would say ‘Willie, you’re a senior player, get the boys home by two’.”
Describing Barrett’s battle as a “hell of a task”, Mason won’t rule out the possibility of a Manly win against the Knights at Brookvale Oval tonight.
But it does rely on the players getting together and backing the coach – and themselves.
“They’re a strong club, a very strong club. They’re one of the strongest clubs of the last 30 or 40 years,” Mason said.
“They’ll get through this. This is just a little bump in the road. They seem to have great years and then they’ll go down for maybe a couple of years and then they’ll come back up.
“They’ve got too many good players at the club and some great leadership there. They’ll come out the other end. It’s Manly.”