Des Hasler has returned to a Manly club desperate to return to finals footy. Can he and his "big three" take the Sea Eagles back to the promised land?
Jade Anderson (2019), Cade Cust (2019), Kane Elgey (Gold Coast Titans, 2020), Brendan Elliot (Gold Coast Titans, 2019), Reuben Garrick (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2019), Trent Hodkinson (Cronulla Sharks, 2019), Albert Hopoate (2019), Sean Keppie (2019), Semisi Kioa (2019), Luke Metcalf (2019), Haumole Olakau'atu (2019), Corey Waddell (Penrith Panthers, 2019)
Lewis Brown (retired), Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils), Brian Kelly (Gold Coast Titans), Shaun Lane (Parramatta Eels), Darcy Lussick (Toronto Wolfpack), Joey Lussick (Salford Red Devils), Akuila Uate (Huddersfield Giants), Jonathan Wright (retired), Tom Wright (rugby union)
The Sea Eagles avoided the 2018 wooden spoon only due to one of the direst Parramatta sides of modern times being there. It was through no efforts of their own.
They were awful.
One and off the field, Manly were a basket case more often than not. They spent so much time in the headlines for the farcical coaching situation that still sees them paying Trent Barrett to literally stay away from training.
They released Blake Green thinking they would add Mitchell Pearce. When Pearce signed for the Knights, Manly's season was effectively over.
They missed the 2018 finals by more wins than they recorded across the season. Seven wins for the year, for a team containing three Origin stars and a Kiwi megastar, is just not on.
The salary cap scandal finally looks behind them, while Des Hasler has been brought back. They've recruited a halves partner for DCE and can surely only improve on a terrible 2018 season.
Best Signing: Kane Elgey
The signing of Kane Elgey looks like one that will suit both player and club. Elgey, a super talent, had fallen down the pecking order at the Titans and looks set for a fresh start.
The Sea Eagles took a huge punt last year releasing Blake Green without a ready-made replacement and it backfired in a big way.
Elgey's signing should ease the workload on DCE who was forced to play a lone hand at times in 2018.
Those with short memories may forget the way Elgey burst onto the scene. In 2015, his rookie year, he represented the PMs XI against PNG.
An ACL injury ended his rise and unfortunately he never really returned to his early career form. That said, he has the potential to be a long-term halves partner to DCE at Manly.
Young Gun/One To Watch: Albert Hopoate
Former Dragon Reuben Garrick seems to be the name on most experts lips, but if Walker isn't available in round one, it's young Albert Hopoate that I'd be running with.
There's footage of the young fullback, most likely to debut on the wing, scoring a length of the field try in the juniors where he breaks what looks like 20 tackles.
Manly need a break out youngster to come in with speed and elusiveness and young Hoppa has both in spades.
Elliott and Parker probably have an early jump but with doubts over Walker's NRL career, I would not be shocked to see Albert's name in discussion regardless of the outcome.
Most Important Player: Daly Cherry-Evans
I was very tempted to type the name Trbojevic (Tom) but Cherry-Evans is still the main man north of the Spit Bridge.
DCE copped undeserved criticism for Manly's dire 2018 season. Given the circus that surrounded his huge-money re-signing, the pressure will always follow him, but he was forced to play a lone role far too often last year.
Elgey's signing should help ease the pressure on DCE allowing him to play his game rather than everybody's game.
DCE has one of the best kicking games in the competition and can bust the line like few other halves.
He doesn't have the superstar supporting cast in the outside backs that he's had in years gone by but he's a talent that can lift those around him. Look for a huge year from DCE with the return of Hasler.
Recruitment Grade: D
With all due respect to the names on the list, outside of Kane Elgey and maybe Hopoate and Elliott, there isn't a whole lot of NRL first grade talent in their "gains" list.
Elgey, as mentioned, will slot straight into the halves after the club failed to replace Blake Green in 2018. Brendan Elliott and Albert Hopoate will be there or thereabouts in round one in the outside backs.
They really lacked depth in the forwards last year and having lost Lane, Brown and Lussick, they look threadbare again.
Unfortunately for Manly fans the NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg sides are not the club's strong point recently, and if a star is to emerge, it will out of nowhere.
To be honest, when I looked at my list I couldn't believe I had Manly so high given the above run down.
Then I remembered the names Trbojevic (x2), Cherry-Evans, and Taupau. These are genuinely four of the NRL's biggest stars and almost automatic rep selections at any level.
Outside of the big four, Manly have the likes of Sironen and Thompson, two underrated forwards. Koroisau is a freakish talent, on his day.
Outside of that, well I think even the biggest Sea Eagles fan would agree that they're unlikely to push the likes of the Roosters, Souths and the like in terms of talent.
Des Hasler is a huge in. He knows the Manly club and seems to have revitalised the battered and almost broken club.
That said, his last season at the Dogs was akin to repeatedly headbutting the wall. They were awful. The way he had the halves playing was an embarrassment to the game.
In DCE, Hasler has a far superior half and thus should find far improved results.
I just can't see this side having the strike power outside of the big names mentioned above to win enough games to play finals.