Manly’s loss to the Melbourne Storm, as a diehard Manly fan, was devastating. Melbourne didn’t just beat us, they exposed every weakness in the side.
In a sense, it was a reality check for a Manly team that has thrived when we’re on top of sides, but struggled when we’re in the fight.
Our major problem was obvious (and Dessie said as much): errors. If we’re to win a premiership, we can’t just give away position and points at crucial times. And to win this year, we need to rethink one key position: our second row.
Josh Schuster is an incredible player — don’t get me wrong. Sublime ball playing skills. A boot that simply oozes talent. But our game against Melbourne exposed one key thing: Josh has some growing up to do, and do fast.
A key part of where Manly goes wrong is Josh’s errors per game. In recent weeks, his errors have gone up. His tackle efficiency in recent weeks is down to 89 per cent on the last four games, well down on the season start. He averages 1.11 errors per game, compared to Haumole Olakau’atu, who is below 1. Most backorders will average below 0.8 at NRL standard.
The challenge if your second row is conceding errors, is it means less room for error in your outside backs. And in a finals game — particularly where dominant field position is so important — the crucial factor that can decide games is self-inflicted errors.
Schuster is no doubt Manly’s future five-eighth and a brilliant player. Being brought in early to first grade likely hasn’t helped, and it does look as if elements of his game just have bad habits. Loose carries and constantly trying to no-look pass when it’s not needed don’t actually help the team; and highlight the exuberance of youth rather than a genuine usage of his immense skills.
To win the premiership, Manly simply cannot afford any more of these errors. Curtis Sironen, a gun player in his own right, averaged 0.64 errors throughout the 2019 season. He averaged even less, 0.39, in 2020.
The logical choice to win is simple. Josh Schuster, a brilliant and popular player, should be replaced by Sironen in the line-up. Doing so would reduce errors, improve Manly’s field position and ultimately allow Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans to get down the other end of the field more often — where we know, more often than not, they’re going to score points.
Time to make the hard choice, Des.