There have been lots of NRL supporters who’ve been gleefully watching the steaming excrement sandwich that has been unfolding on the northern beaches over the past five seasons.
There has been lots of talk of relocating the club or – worse still – seeing them fold.
However, the NRL needs the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. They are essential to the fabric of rugby league in Australia. They are, whether you like it or not.
Sure, the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles can be a particularly unloveable club. We’ve all got our stories. I’ve detailed some of my experiences in disliking them and their fans before but another incident that always comes to mind is when I was leaving Canberra Stadium after a Friday night match in May 2008.
During the game, Sea Eagle Adam Cuthbertson had completely coat-hangered a Raider and was duly sent off by referee Sean Hampstead. Although the Sea Eagles went into the sheds leading 12-0 there was an expectation that the Raiders would come home over the top of the Sea Eagles.
That’s not the way it played out though. The Sea Eagles came out in the second half with a very tight game plan of ball control and field position. Dummy half running was about the only thing they did and their kick chases were outstanding.
They completely controlled the game and strangled the Raiders. They took the game 31-18, much to the delirious joy of their travelling contingent of supporters.
And didn’t they rub it in. All of the way out of the ground many of the Sea Eagles fans could not have been more obnoxious, inflammatory and offensive. I watched as they abused and ridiculed Raiders fans, including children.
I watched a couple of blokes hitting the tops of departing cars with their flags. I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like them.
While I’m sure that examples of that sort of behaviour are in no way limited to the supporters of the Sea Eagles, it really stuck with me.
Judging by the high level of dislike amongst other NRL supporters for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles I’m hardly the lone ranger either.
Many of those detractors are right now thinking about just how good is it watching the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in such dire straits. There’s a lot of Schadenfreude going on.
In the last couple of years we’ve seen their 2011 premiership side break apart, often acrimoniously. We’ve seen them miss the finals in three of the last four seasons. We’ve seen issues with sponsors and fighting in the boardroom.
They’ve been busted breaking the salary cap and now have to play out the next couple of seasons with less in their cap as a punishment. They’ve got the very worst ground in the NRL and their offices and training facilities that are better suited to a Group 9 team, and their fans don’t travel.
Further, their coach quit and now they are casting around looking for a replacement. If reports are to be believed, captain Daly Cherry-Evans says he will walk if Neil Henry is appointed.
Now it seems that prodigal son Des Hasler just might return with his less than stellar record of managing salary caps. However, the suggestion that he could reinvigorate their all-important siege mentality is certainly a good one.
Amongst all this, it’s no surprise that there are heaps of people gleefully suggesting that relocating the Sea Eagles to Perth is a genuine option.
But it isn’t. Not even slightly.
The NRL needs the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles right where they are. The NRL needs them to be competitive. There are so many reasons for that too.
Firstly, footy is all about rivalries. I hear so many people saying that enjoyment of the game is paramount and support of a club should be subjugated by that.
While the actual product is essential in getting people initially interested, what keeps people coming back is their affiliation with their own club. The game itself becomes totally secondary to that.
When you have an abiding loyalty to a team it closely follows that there will be teams that you start to dislike, even hate. Those rivalries are vital to the passion of the game. It can take a long time to build up a truly fierce rivalry with another club.
It took the Storm over a decade for other teams supporters to really hate them. Think how much you love your side beating the Broncos or the Roosters (unless of course you support them). You just don’t get that sort of pleasure from beating teams you are ambivalent about.
Lots of us get that same deep pleasure from beating the Sea Eagles who have been getting opposition supporters offside since 1947. To remove the Sea Eagles from the Northern Beaches or to let them fold would waste all of that hard earned enmity.
Secondly, the Sea Eagles are the only team north of the harbour. While their fans might not really seem to know how to get to the other side, the idea of ceding that area and its supporters to other codes is unthinkable.
While the Sea Eagles fans can be some of the most one eyed and obnoxious going around, they add such a colourful segment to the rich tapestry that is the NRL.
Thirdly, the idea of relocating teams and just expecting them to be adopted passionately up by the locals is ludicrous. Creating new sides ideally is done in an area where there is already strong grassroots. When the Panthers and Sharks were included in 1967 they had strong local competitions.
So did the Raiders and Steelers in 1982. The Broncos and Knights also had it in 1988. Do Perth or Adelaide actually have what is needed? I’m not so sure. So the idea of moving an established club with long term, traditional support from an area where there are no other clubs is ludicrous to me.
Lastly, I really want to hate Manly: the team and their fans. I really do. However, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the players and officials. I’ve been hosted many times at their ground.
They have been some of the best and most helpful people I’ve met while working around the game. The likes of Jamie Lyon and Daly Cherry-Evans I’ve found to be superb humans. Further, I can’t name a ground in the NRL where the staff are so helpful. Then there are the likes of the Turbo brothers who are such ornaments to the game.
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles are part of what is great about rugby league. They are an essential part. We need them.
Right now the NRL needs to be working industriously with the club to get it back on the right track and back to their successful ways.
And then we can all enjoy really hating them properly again.