MUDGEE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17: Tom Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles scores a try during the round six NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Gold Coast Titans at Glen Willow Sporting Complex, on April 17, 2021, in Mudgee, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Manly managed a deep finish to the season despite many not seeing Des Hasler's side reach the top-eight. Here's how we saw the Sea Eagles' season.

Pre-Season Predicted Finish: 12th
Actual Finish: 4th
Record: 16 wins (+252)

2021 Season Snapshot

The Sea Eagles entered the season without the weight of expectation. Truthfully they looked like a side who could compete for a seventh or eighth spot at best.

Fast forward to the opening month and Manly sat in last at 0-4. An unimpressive one-point win over the Warriors in Round 5 hardly had many worrying about the Sea Eagles.

Then the comeback. Tom Trbojevic would return and set in motion the single greatest turnaround I can remember. Manly became a completely different side.

during the round 26 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Penrith Panthers at Lottoland on September 2, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.

'Turbo' was the main man but Daly Cherry-Evans put his best season-long performance in across multiple years. Two wingers stood up and became weapons. A young crop of forwards become unstoppable.

From 0-4 to a Preliminary Final is crazy enough but this became a season I doubt you will see replicated any time soon.

Star Player: Tom Trbojevic

What can be said that hasn't already been stated?

Tom Trbojevic had a season to be believed. He won the Dally M Medal despite playing only 15 games in the regular season.

His stats are eye-watering. Across his 18 games (including three Finals) he scored 28 tries, laid on 28 try assists, made three line breaks, broke 124 tackles and made over 200 metres per game.

The discussions around this being amongst the top individual seasons of all time are very justified. 15 games saw him beat Nathan Cleary, Cody Walker, James Tedesco and the like for the top medal in the game.

Breakout Star: Josh Schuster

This came down to a shootout between Schuster and the equally impressive Haumole Olakau'atu. Just quietly, Olakau'atu was borderline unstoppable at times.

In Schuster, the Sea Eagles may have unearthed the game's next megastar. He played most of the season in the second-row but looks like a long-term star in the six.

Across his 21 games - remembering he had just one NRL game to his name prior to 2021 - Schuster scored two tries, set up nine, made eight line breaks, assisted nine line breaks, had 21 offloads and tackled at almost 94%.

His ball-playing skills are up there with the best in the second-row across the competition. Comparisons to Wade Graham look spot on. That's a huge wrap for the 20-year-old.

Rugby League Outlaws present their Season Finale and talk all the big issues

Positives

Stunning surprise: Manly almost took it personally that I, like most, had Manly missing the eight during pre-season predictions. I even put a side bet on that Manly would finish below the Sharks.

Two wingers dropped to reserve grade at other clubs. An ageing forward pack sans their best big man after Addin Fonua Blake left.

A fullback who hurt himself racing a pundit, a race he lost, in Manly in the pre-season. A busted five-eighth.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 01: Josh Schuster of the Sea Eagles makes a break during the NRL trial match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on March 01, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Des Hasler had the last laugh as he turned this side into one of the competition's elite. They were a game away from a Grand Final.

Wow.

New rule specialists: Des Hasler has built a side that almost seem purpose-built for the new, faster game that has developed under Peter V'landys.

Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu are the absolute perfect modern-day second-rowers. Jake Trbojevic seems more athletic with every passing season.

Dylan Walker went from the source of great laughter as a part-time fullback/half to one of the best bench players in the game across the 12 months.

Their wingers are massive, fast and score tries for fun.

Then of course they have a handy fullback who tore the opposition defences to shreds all season long.

Negatives

Flat track bullies: Manly fans hate the term but it's all well and good to beat up on the Sharks, Tigers and a broken Roosters, but you can't win the premiership unless you beat the top few.

The Sea Eagles were throttled 40-12 by the Storm in the first week of the finals, then were thrown aside to the tune of 36-16 in the preliminary final by Souths.

Although they had their way with the Eels and beat what was left of the Roosters in the finals, Manly failed to worry the sides who finished above them.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 01: Daly Cherry-Evans of the Sea Eagles reacts after a Panthers try during the round four NRL match between the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the Penrith Panthers at Lottoland on April 01, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It's certainly not the end of the world to lose to Melbourne, Souths and Penrith but to not get within ten points of a side above them makes it tough come the business end of the season.

One Man team?: This isn't going to go over too well with fans on the Northern Beaches but the facts are Manly struggled to win when 'Tommy Turbo' didn't blitz sides.

Luckily for the Sea Eagles there weren't many games where Trbojevic wasn't the best player on the field, but he often didn't have the support.

Look at the start of Manly's season sans Turbo. They went winless in the opening four weeks. Their only win before Turbo returned was a one-point win over the Warriors.

Turbo was kept quiet in two out of the three finals games. No prizes for guessing which games they were.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 27: Brothers Tom and Jake Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles celebrate after winning the round 25 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Manly Sea Eagles at Mt Smart Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Of course, the best player of a team is important to their side's success but in this instance, Turbo is the most important player in the competition to his side's results.

Season Grade: A+

Ok, so the Sea Eagles season ended on a comprehensive loss to Souths. On a positive thought, it was in a preliminary final.

The Sea Eagles had a season beyond the hopes of even the most rusted on of Manly fans.

Any season that sees 16 wins, plus an extra win in the finals, is going to suggest an above-average season. Throw in the relatively low expectations and you have yourself an A+ season for Manly.

They boasted the best player in the competition, three of the top four try scorers and were a game away from a decider despite not enjoying their famous Brookvale Oval advantage.