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NRL Round 1 predicted teams: Manly Sea Eagles - Schuster's fitness battles continue as Seibold faces crucial season

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31st January, 2024
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As part of a series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2024, it’s time to see if Manly can improve on their 2023 – and finally live up to their potential.

Summer is a great time to be on the Northern Beaches. Most parts of the year are a pretty good time to be there, if we’re being honest, which is why it’s so expensive and the residents so rarely leave.

The summer brings both extensive time on the sand, but also optimism that the assumed greatness of the Manly club will again come to the fore, even if it hasn’t really been seen in a decade or so.

It’s also the time in which Tom Trbojevic is usually fit, which, as everyone knows, is the key to this team. With him, they can do pretty much anything, but without him, it’s an uphill struggle.

Manly last year was a lot like Manly in 2022, in that they were decent when Turbo played and then tailed off when he didn’t, but perhaps different too, in the sense that there was a real defined style of play from Anthony Seibold by the end that looked to move beyond the impact of their best player.

Des Hasler oriented his plan around getting the best out of Turbo – not a bad idea when he’s there – but Seibold got the team playing an expansive style of footy in which he could be the cherry on the top rather than the whole cake.

There were times in which Manly looked like world beaters – wins over Parra and Melbourne at home, Canberra and Cronulla away – and others when it really, really didn’t work too.

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By the end, the style seemed pretty embedded and, with the roster strengthened for 2024, it’s put up or shut up time.

Unfortunately for Seibold, reports have emerged that Josh Schuster is struggling to be right for the start of the season due to a bout of chicken pox, a finger injury and a calf strain.

It’s the last thing he needed after questions over his fitness last season when he was switched to five-eighth. Schuster is headed back to the second row in 2024 but he is running out of time to be getting a seat on the plane to Las Vegas for Round 1.

Young winger Christian Tuipulotu is also unlikely to be suiting up for different reasons – he has been granted permission to negotiate elsewhere with the Dragons ready to pounce so he can make an immediate switch.

Who’s new?

Manly have been busy bees in the market, adding a marquee player in Luke Brooks as well as depth players like Tommy Talau, Jaxson Paulo, Corey Waddell and Aitasi James.

They’ve also extended Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula, Josh Schuster, Lachlan Croker, Tof Sipley, Ethan Bullemor, Christian Tuipulotu and Brad Parker.

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Throw in that Matt Lodge and Jake Arthur joined late last year and they’ve also added two of the world’s oldest development players in Nathan Brown and Aaron Woods and you’re suddenly looking at a squad that should be pretty deep, experienced and settled.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Daly Cherry-Evans of the Manly Sea Eagles scores a try during the round 26 NRL match between Canterbury Bulldogs and Manly Sea Eagles at Accor Stadium on August 27, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)

Daly Cherry-Evans scores. (Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)

Who’s gone?

All those signings and extensions are causing something of a salary cap squeeze, so a fair few have departed.

The replacement strategy, however, does look quite sensible.

Morgan Harper goes, but Talau comes in. Sean Keppie goes, but Brown, Woods and James all arrive to compete. Kelma Tuilagi is out, but Schuster moves to the back row and Waddell is in too. Kaeo Weekes leaves, but he was a way down the pecking order by the end.

The biggest departures are perhaps the Fainu twins, Latu and Samuela, but until they turn into world beaters – which, in fairness, might happen – then it’ll look like getting 200-game former Halfback of the Year on the relative cheap is the better side of that deal.

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Key spots to unlock?

Manly’s 1-13 is fairly easy to predict, with only a few positional issues to sort out.

Reuben Garrick wanted to play centre for most of last year but an initial injury to Jason Saab followed by a later injury to Tom Trbojevic meant that it rarely happened.

With three first grade level wingers, it’s an easy move to stick Garrick one in and grant his wish, with Talau and Parker more than capable back-ups.

Reuben Garrick scores. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Seibold didn’t seem too wedded to Jake Trbojevic as a ball-playing lock and, with the addition of a top level 6 in Brooks, the likelihood is that Jurbo will play in the 13 jumper but more like a conventional middle with Josh Aloiai, Taniela Paseka and Sipley rotating as needed.

The bench is a bit of a juggle, and will tell us a lot about how Seibold is thinking in 2024:  Bullemor is a pocket rocket with a good capacity for work and Jurbo barely goes off, which allowed whichever three of Sipley, Lodge, Aloiai and Paseka joined them in the middle to play short bursts.

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That, in turn, enabled Ben Trbojevic to come in as a utility and Gordon Chan Kum Tong to play as a sparkplug at 9.

Nobody else built a bench like Manly last year, and it’s a high degree of difficulty for the coach to pull it off, but Seibold will love that challenge.

Round 1 predicted team

1 Tom Trbojevic
2 Jason Saab
3 Reuben Garrick
4 Tolu Koula
5 Jaxson Paulo
6 Luke Brooks
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Taniela Paseka
9 Lachlan Croker
10 Josh Aloiai
11 Haumole Olakau’atu
12 Josh Schuster/Corey Waddell
13 Jake Trbojevic
Interchange
14 Gordon Chan Kum Tong
15 Ben Trbojevic
16 Ethan Bullemor
17 Tof Sipley

Other squad members: Brad Parker, Jake Arthur, Waddell/Schuster, Karl Lawton, Tommy Talau, Ray Vaega, Matt Lodge, Zac Fulton, Ben Condon, Christian Tuipulotu

Development players: Nathan Brown, Aaron Woods, Aitasi James, Bailey Hodgson, Austin Dias, Dean Matterson, Clayton Faulalo

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