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NRL 2019 season preview: Manly Sea Eagles

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17th February, 2019
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The Manly Sea Eagles could be in for a horrid 2019 NRL season, with the club in turmoil, a former coach back in charge and a lack of cohesion across the club.

It’s hard to call 2018 anything other than a disaster for the Sea Eagles, who will be aiming to put the last 12 months in the rear-view mirror and look forward.

While the men from the northern beaches weren’t assisted by injuries throughout the year, they simply weren’t good enough and didn’t have the depth in the side.

It’s brought about a change of coach, with Trent Barrett given his marching orders from the club (kind of), and Des Hasler back in the chair as coach after a failed stint at the Bulldogs where he left them in a salary cap mess.

Hasler had success at the Sea Eagles, but he is going to have his work cut out for him this year.

Des Hasler

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

While they have some good players floating around, putting together a strong, consistent season might be beyond the SeaEagles, who have plenty of question marks hovering over the squad.

Led once again by Daly Cherry-Evans, the pressure will be on their key names to have a big year and consistently win games for their club.

Club fact file

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Colours: Maroon and white
Home ground: Lottoland (Brookvale Oval)
Premierships: 8
Minor premierships: 8
Best finish in last five years: 2014 – second (lost in semi-finals)
2018 finish: 15th
Coach: Des Hasler
Captain: Daly Cherry-Evans

Squad

Daly Cherry-Evans, Cade Cust, Kane Elgey, Brendan Elliot, Manase Fainu, Addin Fonua-Blake, Tevita Funa, Reuben Garrick, Jack Gosiewski, Trent Hodkinson, Albert Hopoate, Semisi Kioa, Apisai Koroisau, Brad Parker, Taniela Paseka, Lloyd Perrett, Toafofoa Sipley, Curtis Sironen, Moses Suli, Kelepi Tanginoa, Jorge Taufua, Martin Taupau, Joel Thompson, Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic, Corey Waddell, Dylan Walker, Frank Winterstein

Changes
Ins: Cade Cust (promoted), Kane Elgey (Gold Coast Titans), Brendan Elliot (Gold Coast Titans), Reuben Garrick (St George Illawarra Dragons), Albert Hopoate (promoted), Semisi Kioa (promoted), Corey Waddell (Penrith Panthers)
Outs: Lewis Brown (retirement), Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils), Brian Kelly (Gold Coast Titans), Shaun Lane (Parramatta Eels), Darcy Lussick (Toronto Wolfpack), Akuilla Uate (Huddersfield Giants), Jonathan Wright (retirement), Matthew Wright (Central Queensland Capras), Tom Wright (rugby union)

The Sea Eagles had to make changes after what transpired over the last 12 months, but they haven’t done a heap of great things in the transfer market it has to be said.

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The loss of Shaun Lane to the Eels will be a blow to their pack, while the departure of Akuilla Uate won’t help nor hinder the club. He had an ability to find the tryline, but also made plenty of errors.

Other players to depart are Tom Wright, young and talented centre Brian Kelly, Matt Wright, Lewis Brown and Jonathan Wright, although Brown was unsigned and there is still a spot left in the squad.

Lachlan Croker has also been demoted to the development squad.

In their places, the Sea Eagles have secured the prized signature of young Titans half Kane Elgey, who will provide some stability and take pressure off Cherry-Evans, which was the role Croker was going to play last year before he got injured.

Brendan Elliott also arrives from the Titans, while exciting winger Reuben Garrick has been signed from the Dragons and could get a spot in the 17 pending on Dylan Walker’s availability and pre-season form. Corey Waddell is the other arrival at the club.

Spine
This spine really has the potential to be anything it wants to be, although the questions around their forward pack, ability to dominate games and decision making might hold them back.

The only real question around the way they will line up is Trent Hodkinson against Kane Elgey in the number six. With Manase Fainu likely to be included as the bench utility, it means the man who misses the 13 will be in New South Wales Cup for Blacktown.

I’d say, given they have signed Elgey as one of their high-profile recruits from the Gold Coast during the off-season, that he gets first crack.

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His combination with Daly Cherry-Evans will be intriguing, but one which probably suits him down to the ground.

Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Cherry-Evans kicking game at club level has been excellent at times over the last few years, so this should allow Elgey to be experimental with the way he plays within the Manly structure and be dangerous running the ball.

They are of course, joined by one of the game’s best young fullbacks in Tom Trbojevic, who is made all the more dangerous by guys like Martin Taupau and brother Jake, who are strong offloaders of the footy.

Rounding out the four men in the key positions for the men from Manly will be Apisai Koroisau, who lines up in the number nine.

Backs
The depth in the outside backs for Manly is actually quite good. Even though it’s inexperienced depth, Des Hasler has a selection headache on his hand, with Reuben Garrick and Albert Hopoate pushing for a spot on the wing.

I’ll take Brendan Elliott to win the race for the vacant spot in the back line, but it really could go either way.

The other three spots seem more or less certain, with Taufua and Walker (should he not be suspended) walk up starters, and Moses Suli likely to get the first crack in the centres.

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There is try-scoring talent here, but Suli has been inconsistent, Taufua has errors and defensive mistakes in his game, and Walker is yet to find his potential to be one of the best players in the game he has often been touted to be.

Forwards
It’s not the worst forward pack, but it’s one without a lot of depth who simply didn’t perform to expectations throughout 2018.

Manly’s pack not being able to dominate games was a big reason they found themselves at the wrong end of the table by the end of it, and while Martin Taupau and Jake Trbojevic lead it well from the front, the onus is on others to stand up.

Taupau is a freak when it comes to offloading the footy, and Trbojevic has great vision for a lock, while Addin-Fonua Blake came on in leaps and bounds last year.

Joel Thompson is a proven quality and will join Curtis Sironen in the back row, but after that, things drop away.

Frank Winterstein has shown immense potential, but never kicked on, Taniela Paseka and Lloyd Perrett both have size about them, and players like Jack Gosiewski, Toafofoa Sipley and Kelepi Tanginoa, but again, it’s not the quality of other names, and if an injury does hit, it’s going to weaken the Manly forward pack considerably.

Origin impact
Origin is less of a factor than it has been, but still, it takes a lot out of players, and Manly could lose some stars.

The Trbojevic brothers are almost both certain to be there, while Daly Cherry-Evans could also be dressed in Maroon. Given their depth issues, take those three out of the Sea Eagles, and things are looking very shaky on the ground.

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Tom Trbojevic

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Likely best 17
1. Tom Trbojevic
2. Jorge Taufua
3. Moses Suli
4. Dylan Walker (Brad Parker if suspended)
5. Brendan Elliott
6. Kane Elgey
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Addin Fonua-Blake
9. Apisai Koroisau
10. Martin Taupau
11. Joel Thompson
12. Curtis Sironen
13. Jake Trbojevic
14. Manase Fainu
15. Frank Winterstein
16. Taniela Paseka
17. Lloyd Perrett

Keys to the season

Will the bench please stand up?
Last year, one of the biggest problems Trent Barrett faced was an extreme lack of output off the bench.

It was particularly evident during the second half of 2018 as Manly went from bad to worse, but they would start games well, then lose Fonua-Blake and Taupau, then really struggle with the replacements trying to step up.

Whether it was attack or defence, Manly regularly found themselves folding on the back foot during the middle third of games without their two big boppers on the park.

Martin Taupau

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Given the faces on the bench haven’t swapped around, it’s going to be the same problem.

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Manly can’t afford to give up the first 20 minutes, so dropping one of the props to the bench is out of the question. Instead, the onus falls on an uncertain bench to lift their game.

Defence is the main war of attrition which needs to be won up the middle third, but they need to make more metres and give Cherry-Evans and the spin more chances to win the contest as well.

A settled spine might help
One of the problems Manly faced in 2018 was the loss of Lachlan Croker. Given he played very few games before copping that serious injury, it’s hard to get a read on what he may have done to help the Sea Eagles, but still, it’s fair to say some of their pre-season plans would have gone out the window.

Kane Elgey, as mentioned above, it likely to get first crack in the halves alongside Daly Cherry-Evans, but he will still be looking over his shoulder at Trent Hodkinson.

Still, Elgey, who has an impressive running game, is a good addition to the club and will create a good foil for Cherry-Evans, who has a habit of being able to build pressure through his short-range kicking game.

The way he is able to consistently force drop outs is a joy to watch, and if he can get that right in 2019 on the back of an improved forward pack and game plan under Hasler, then the rest of the competition might need to watch out.

Of course, the other parts of the spine are also settled, although Manly could do with not losing the creative intent of Apisai Koroisau at hooker through injury.

They need his spark and creativity on the field, because outside of it, there is very little in the way of being able to produce points out of the blue.

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The Trbojevic brothers are great, but they need support
Tom and Jake Trbojevic are both excellent players, who are destined to once again represent New South Wales in 2019, but they need more support than they got over the last 12 months.

Sure, they will lead from the front. The way Tom is able to play support through the middle for Jake, or vice versa, is solid. Tom’s passing game is outstanding, and the hard-work attitude of Jake is up there with the best in the game. Jake also has a really good way of solidifying the middle third in defence.

Still, two players – two young players at that – can’t win games in the NRL on their own, and at times last year, it felt that’s exactly what they were being tasked with.

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They need less errors out wide, better defence across the park, and an ability to control games for portions so they aren’t on the back foot.

One of the best examples of Manly folding was their home game against the Titans last year. It was a brilliant first half, followed up by a defensive effort which is best left in the past and not talked about.

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It was inconsistent, rocks and diamonds stuff from Manly, and that happens when you have two or three players tasked with leading the way week in and week out with very little support.

Fixtures

Round Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue TV
1 Sat Mar 16 5:30pm Wests Tigers Leichhardt Oval Fox
2 Sat Mar 23 7:35pm Sydney Roosters Lottoland Fox
3 Sat Mar 30 3pm New Zealand Warriors Christchurch Stadium Fox
4 Sat Apr 6 3pm South Sydney Rabbitohs Lottoland Fox
5 Sat Apr 13 5:30pm Newcastle Knights McDonald Jones Stadium Fox
6 Sat Apr 20 7:35pm St George Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium Fox
7 Sun Apr 28 2:00pm Canberra Raiders Lottoland Fox
8 Sat May 4 5:30pm Canterbury Bulldogs Lottoland Fox
9 Fri May 10 7:55pm Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium Nine/Fox
10 Sun May 19 4:05pm Cronulla Sharks Shark Park Nine/Fox
11 Fri May 24 6pm Gold Coast Titans Lottoland Fox
12 Thu May 30 7:50pm Penrith Panthers Panthers Stadium Nine/Fox
13 Sat Jun 8 7:35pm North Queensland Cowboys 1300 Smiles Stadium Fox
14 Sun Jun 16 2pm St George Illawarra Dragons Lottoland Fox
15 Sat Jun 29 3pm Gold Coast Titans CBus Super Stadium Fox
17 Sat Jul 13 3pm South Sydney Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium Fox
18 Sun Jul 21 4:05pm Parramatta Eels Lottoland Nine/Fox
19 Sat Jul 27 7:35pm Melbourne Storm AAMI Park Fox
20 Sat Aug 3 3pm Newcastle Knights Lottoland Fox
21 Fri Aug 9 6pm New Zealand Warriors MT Smart Stadium Fox
22 Thu Aug 15 7:50pm Wests Tigers Lottoland Nine/Fox
23 Sun Aug 25 4:05pm Canberra Raiders GIO Stadium Nine/Fox
24 Sat Sep 31 5:30pm Melbourne Storm Lottoland Fox
25 Thu Sep 6 6pm Parramatta Eels Western Sydney Stadium Fox

The quick breakdown
Teams to play twice: Wests Tigers, New Zealand Warriors, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Newcastle Knights, St George Illawarra Dragons, Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans, Parramatta Eels, Melbourne Storm
Best home run: Round 7 – Round 8 (2 out of 2)
Worst away run: Round 9 – Round 17 (6 out of 8)
Five-day turnarounds: 2

Analysis
On the surface, Manly’s fixtures look unbalanced. They only play back-to-back games at home once, and have tricky opposition to play twice in the Dragons, Rabbitohs and Storm.

While they might be aided by some of their other double-ups like the Eels, Raiders and Titans, they are going to find it hard to get into a rhythm, given they only play back-to-back home games once this year.

In fact, they only have ten games at the former fortress that is Brookvale, due to a Round 3 game in Christchurch and having to host Magic Weekend.

Prediction

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Manly do have some game-winners in their side, but they have limited depth, issues off the field and plenty of questions over consistency and what sort of style they will end up playing under Hasler.

As much as their fans will be at pains to accept another weak season is ahead, I’m going to say they will continue a proud club tradition of avoiding the wooden spoon, but not by much.

It’s going to be another long winter for the Brookvale faithful, but this needs to be a year where they start to get the ship right to have a charge at the finals in 2020.

14th.

We will move on to 13th place on Wednesday.