'I don't want to coach safe, I want to win games'
TRENT Barrett has backed Daly Cherry-Evans to return to his best in 2017, admitting the retirement of club legends Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart and Steve Matai has lifted the pressure off his star halfback.
In his most revealing interview since taking over from Geoff Toovey, the 39-year-old sat down and spoke candidly with The Daily Telegraph about his own future, and the troubles of 2016.
"There were times last year you had to pick yourself off the floor," Barrett conceded.
But he is also adamant that tough initiation has made him a better coach, and he would not "coach safe" just to protect his job this year.
Under his watch, Manly has turned over a phenomenal 44 players. But the positive is that Manly is now in a position to create new history, with Cherry-Evans leading the way.
There is no doubt Cherry-Evans has struggled to live up to the huge expectations since he backflipped on the Gold Coast to sign a long-term lucrative deal. He has gone from a premiership-winning halfback in his first year who played Test and Origin football, to somewhat of an outcast.
Barrett believes much of the criticism was unfair.
"What he had to go through in the last year or the last 18 months will test the mettle of anybody," Barrett said.
"A lot of it was out of his control, I think, and he was put in some positions where the pressure that was on him certainly wasn't any of his doing.
"The pressure of being a halfback comes with the job but a lot of the external stuff Cherry had to go through, one, I think he will be better for it, and he is a tough individual.
"He doesn't let things get to him too much but I can see a noted difference in him this year. It is probably the fittest I have seen him.
"He seems happy. He has developed into a real good leader. He is that important to us. I still don't think we have seen the best of Cherry."
Asked if the retirement of Lyon, Stewart and Matai had helped release the pressure and allowed Cherry-Evans to take more control, Barrett said: "Gus (Gould) used to say it at Penrith: respect the past but create the future.
"And that is one thing I tell this group.
"We have a lot of respect and admiration for what this club has done in the past but that is not going to help us now. We have an opportunity to create our own destiny.
"My job is to put all that in place and create an environment where they all want to be here and no one wants to leave."
Off the 44 changes to the playing roster since Barrett arrived, he said not one decision was made lightly.
But undoubtedly the most difficult conversations were those had with Lyon, Stewart and Matai.
"I don't think they are tough if you are honest," Barrett said.
"One thing I have always said and I will live by is if you always telling the truth and you are honest with everyone and everyone is hearing the same message, well, you can't get in trouble.
"I can get on the front foot with anything if I have nothing to hide. The conversations I had to have with Jamie were very open and very honest.
"The same with Brett, the same with Steve. I think that is the only way you can do it and still be able to maintain friendships and be able to maintain that respect."
Asked if there was any resentment, he added: "Not at all. Jamie was one that was pretty much up to him. He was playing well.
"And with those three blokes I am not much older than them and I played with and against them so they were conversations where I can take my coach's hat off and give them some advice or an opinion as a mate and give it honestly and unbiased.
"And that is the way I handled it. It has all worked out pretty well.
"But again, it did take a lot of time thinking about how I would handle it because the repercussions on the group can be pretty heavy. I do think a hell of a lot about how certain things do affect the group and the club.
"We had that dominant era of the Stewarts and King, Jamie Lyon and Matai and Beaver was here for a long time.
"Their leadership group pretty well sorted itself out and we are pretty much starting from scratch.
"We knew that was coming. Nate Myles, Brenton Lawrence, Cherry, Jake Trbojevic, Lewie Brown, Marty (Taupau), they are all in our leadership group and I think they are doing a really good job.
"I think they are thriving on the responsibility actually. Now that those blokes are not here the rest of them have to take up the slack and create their own identity.
"A big part of the reason why we brought Blake Green was for his leadership and experience and his calm head. He has brought that straight away."
So is Barrett safe?
It depends on who you talk to.
Barrett was hand-picked to take over from Toovey by Bob Fulton, and those close to the club say the new coach still has unwavering support.
One thing Barrett is certain about is that he won't let the pressure ever impact on his decisions.
"I am lucky that I have Bozo (Fulton) and a board and the owners there that have been really supportive," Barrett said.
"So I don't feel the pressure. And I can't control it so I can't worry about it.
"I don't want to coach in the negative fashion and I don't want to coach safe. I want to win games.
"I am not protecting my job. I will always make decisions in the best interests of the club.
"Whether they make me popular or not I don't care because I have been brought here to do a job and unfortunately there is decisions that have to be made that not everyone is going to agree with.
"But I have to make them for the right reasons and we are doing that.
"We are starting to put together a squad that is going to be together for a long time we think and can be successful.
"You always have to back your decisions and that is my job. You'd love to be here forever.
"Everyone would love to be like a Wayne Bennett or a Craig Bellamy and it becomes your club. I think every coach would probably have that aspiration."