Sea Eagles starting to rock
With the NRL world asking each other who will beat the Bulldogs and screaming, “This is the year of the Rabbit(oh),” a very familiar event is occurring. I’m talking about the Manly Sea Eagles and their run into the finals.
Generally a team that likes to fly under the radar, and has done so most of the year, Manly have an uncanny ability to find form at the right time of the season.
An uncanny ability that will have all teams going into the finals looking over their shoulders.
Wayne Bennett (in my opinion not the best coach in the game, but the most experienced) has been through a lot of seasons of rugby league in his career.
He has had the opportunity to see firsthand what kind of form/play is needed at this time of year to win a premiership. When asked about Manly he said, “Certainly, their form – and I am not saying that because of today’s result, I am saying it because of what I have seen over the last couple of weeks – they are playing the type of footy that wins when it matters.”
But what does he mean by “the type of footy that wins when it matters”?
Well in simple terms, it means enthusiastic, relentless, ruthless and experienced.
In 40 minutes of football on Sunday we saw exactly why this team has made three grand finals in the last five years and won two, and it wasn’t the score board. It is the structure of how the team is made and the mentality it uses to glue that structure together.
Let’s face it, no one likes to see Manly win. But if you’re a rugby league fan, you will know on their day it is damn near impossible to beat them. If you do though, expect a lot of sore and bruised players.
That’s the beauty of the Eagles though, they play a brand of football which is somewhat lost in all the structure, wrestle and flare in which the game is coached and played today. They do it old school which means hard running, bruising defence and a simple game plan in attack.
They are very well coached, or should I say have been very well coached (Des Hasler), whereby their game plan is based around the strengths of the players rather than the style of the coach.
They have a front row who will advance on you with the sole aim to hurt you; back rowers that run and defend like front rowers with the hands of a halfback; the most underrated hooker in the game who is second choice for Queensland; outside backs that are big and strong and, of course, a fullback who has this freakish ability to find the try line.
To top that all off they Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, who form arguably the best halves pairing in the game.
These two play a simple game, both very similar but both playing differently according to position. They aren’t like all the young halves in the game with a booming step and a flick pass. They are very simple – take it to the line and use their team’s strength and power to put players away.
To add to that, like any great halves, they are not afraid to be put on their behinds. What impresses me the most and should terrify all coaches is as a pair, they are only getting better. This was evident when Newcastle took advantage of some injuries by running in a hat trick of quick tries.
Back against the wall, Cherry-Evans took a risk only confidence and youth can create with a short line drop out straight to – who else – Kieran Foran. Anthony Watmough said after the game, “That saved us, in my opinion anyway… That was definitely a momentum swinger, a game changer”.
When their team was in trouble, they got them out and did it by taking risks. That is what a premiership half does and what great halves do.
The Sea Eagles come up against a Brisbane Broncos team this Friday who are eager to get a win after five consecutive losses. They have a few injury concerns which will be closer analysed in the days to come but, if all is well, in front of a big crowd at Brooky, in a big game situation, we may see a big statement by Manly.
Last year at the preliminary final against the very same team I saw a banner made by a supporter which read, “You hate Manly? Well we hate you too”.
That’s the thing about Manly. They don’t care what anyone thinks, what anyone does or whoever they play. They embrace the hate and have the simple aim to beat you – both on the scoreboard and on the field.
Take note NRL, playing hard and tough is still the foundations of a premiership.
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