2017 was a strange season for the Sea Eagles. Overall a six placed finish and a home semi-final should be considered a big win after their horror 2016 effort, but in saying that Manly fans can be forgiven for thinking perhaps their season petered out.
After beating the Panthers 28-12 the weekend before to secure a ‘home’ final, many expected a repeat effort and Manly to advance. The Panthers had other ideas and bounced the Sea Eagles 22-10.
The Trbojevic brothers were the undoubted stars of the show while Cherry-Evans had a much improved season. Blake Green was solid as always and Akuila Uate turned back the clock in producing a marvellous season. Young Brian Kelly was among the finds of the season.
I’m happy to rate Manly’s 2017 a partial success. They returned to finals footy, their star halfback re-found form, they unearthed a genuine talent in Kelly, and their two superstar youngsters became international stars.
Unfortunately for Manly fans, there were negatives and I don’t know if the club went a long way towards fixing them with their (lack of) recruitment. The salary cap saga still looms over their heads and may make this difficult.
Recruitment Grading: D
Manly have brought in Joel Thompson and Lachlan Croker to replace the likes of Nate Myles and Blake Green. Thompson is a very handy pick up as he will add experience and work ethic to a forward pack that probably looks a little underdone. The loss of Blake Green is huge and with all due respect to the talented Croker, the swap will see the Sea Eagles start from behind in 2018. Hastings may start at five-eighth as a more experienced option but Barrett preferred to play him from the bench in a utility role last year. Croker will need to hit the ground running or the pressure on the likes of DCE and Turbo could really stunt the Sea Eagles start. He’s a talented kid, but he’ll be carrying the weight of the club from a very early stage.
Star Player: Tom Trbojevic
Daly Cherry-Evans is the biggest name and most highly paid star on the roster but for mine, it is all about Tommy Turbo in 2018. His 2017 season saw 11 tries, 17 try assists and 21 line breaks as well as an initial Origin selection before an injury, and selection in the world cup squad. All this and the Manly number one is still only 21 years of age. Young Turbo is one of the players I most look forward to watching play each week. I’m not sure the same can be said for opposition defences. I’m fairly confident in saying that Trbojevic will have another huge year, and will undoubtedly represent New South Wales. He’ll score some highlight reel tries and generally tear it up.
Manly in 2018? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 25, 2018
Strength: All-Star 1, 7 & 9
Turbo, DCE, Koroisau, that’s an awesome 3/4 of a spine right there. Koroisau has been mentioned as the most likely to be picked at number nine come Origin time if Brad Fittler opts for a more attacking option. He has a blinder of a World Cup and seems to improve year on year. DCE should thrive having been placed in such an important position. A player of his stature, and on his wages, should take on a Michael Morgan-esque role in 2018. Turbo’s abilities have been spoken about above. They don’t lack the potential to score points. Dylan Walker looked far better after a settled off-season and returned to his point-scoring ways. There’s plenty of points in this side if they fire.
Weakness: Lack of depth
There is no doubt that Manly have some absolute stars of the game. DCE, Turbo x 2, Walker, just to name a few. That said, I have real reservations about the lack of depth in this squad. The club’s struggles at number six are well documented with efforts to sign Trent Hodkinson looking unlikely to eventuate. An injury to DCE could realistically see the season over. Obviously the same goes for a lot of clubs and their star half, but he shoulders such an enormous workload that I think he’ll very obviously be targeted. The Manly bench doesn’t really possess any ready-made replacements if a forward goes down early in the year. Manly need to have a very lucky season injury-wise.
Most NRL fans will take great pleasure in the Sea Eagles being written off but be warned, Manly usually play their best footy when they’re backed into a corner. How many times have they looked shot only to launch an incredible comeback, as if just to annoy the general league pundit.
The lack of a recognised number six is huge. If they had signed Pearce they could very well have become a top four level side. They missed out and look set to punt on a near rookie. That places ridiculous pressure on their other playmakers.
With all due respect to their forward pack, I don’t see them in the leagues of the Roosters, Cowboys, Storm, Sharks etc. They look light and the depth of talent just isn’t there. Manly will be hoping a 2017 Brian Kelly emerges from the pack.
Manly have the ability to go a long way. If Turbo and DCE fire and Croker lands on his feet, watch out. That said, the over-reliance on one half and a 21-year-old fullback worry me.
This may be a prediction I live to regret, but I just can’t see Manly slipping into the top eight unless they bring in an experienced six before kick off. As mentioned previously that looks a big ask given the salary cap position they find themselves in.