SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 16: Dylan Walker of the Sea Eagles celebrates scoring a try during the round 14 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Lottoland on June 16, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Thank goodness for Dylan Walker.

The well-documented incidents in his off-field life may have changed Walker’s on-field persona a little, but with his niggling and needling, he remains Dylan the Villain for opposition fans. You don’t have to be Curtis Scott to find the Manly utility back mightily irritating.

Walker’s continued presence is an enormous blessing for rugby league fans, because without him there is the hideous prospect of Manly becoming – gulp – likable. Lovable, even.

There, I’ve said it.

Five, ten, twenty years ago, this would sound like heresy. For as long as we can remember, the arrogance and swagger of Manly players have been gleefully matched by the demeanour of their fans.

‘Nobody likes us; we don’t care’ is their credo. Their lair at Brookvale is detested by followers of every other club. Equally annoying is the haughty refusal of Sea Eagles fans to travel to matches anywhere else.

Who could forget Arko and Bozo and the idea of one rule for us, one for everyone else? They were not just nicknamed the Silvertails – they owned it.

But look at them now. We have all heard the story of Jake Trbojevic whispering ‘sorry’ to opponents he has hit too hard. It is equally true that he spends his spare time running water for the local Under 7s and, I dunno, helping pensioners across the street or something.

It is a fair bet that brother Turbo Tom uses his Inspector Gadget arms to rescue kittens stuck in trees. Probably relocates fallen birds to their nests while he’s doing it. (Of course, if the Trbojevic’s really cared about charity they would sign on with the Titans, but that might be a good deed too far even for them.)

Marty Taupau looks like Adonis but talks like Socrates. He is a benchmark for enterprise in player education, and can bicep-curl more textbooks than you can bench-press comic books.

Jorge Taufau appears as cuddly as a koala but hits like a B-Double. He is such a good fella, you almost feel like it would be an honour to have him jam in off the wing and fold you in tiny sections.

For all of his career, Daly Cherry-Evans has had fans bagging him, but now that he is finally free of the Mean Boys clique that centred around the Stewart brothers and Anthony Watmough, DCE seems AOK.

And then, of course, there’s Des. The man who offers apples to journalists at dawn media scrums, who boasts a better head of hair than Robert Plant circa 1975, and a better football brain than most other inhabitants of the planet.

These silvertails are operating out of scummy demountables like a Year 4 class condemned to the bad portable with the busted aircon. Their home ground has the charm of a Board of Works depot. They seem at least as salary cap compliant as any other club, and more squeaky-clean than their despised rivals who brandish the magical three-coloured chequebook.

They beat another despised rival, Storm, in the most stirring victory of recent rounds, and possibly the season. This is a team with resilience, heart and a genuine chance of making it to the big dance this year.

So – thank goodness for good old Dylan Walker. Long may he grub it up, because otherwise, Manly would receive no hate at all. And that would not be rugby league.


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