“I’ll rephrase that for you. You said we could win it, we will win it.”
Those were the words spoken by Manly Sea Eagles prop Marty Taupau early in the season. The side was brimming with confidence, and fancied their chances despite many writing them off before even a ball had been kicked. Unfortunately for Manly fans, the reality has been far from the prediction of their star forward. We all know the story of manly this season, and what an utter debacle it’s been for the players, and the club as an organization.
It started with an investigation into the club’s salary cap situation. The NRL’s integrity announced an investigation in July 2017, which was welcomed by the club. However, after the NRL had examined over 800,000 documents, emails and text messages, they came to the decision to fine the club $750,000 for breaches concerning 15 players over five years.
Compounded with that, $660,000 was deducted from their cap for the 2018 season. Manly became compliant with their reduced cap, and proceeded with their season as planned.
Their troubles were far from over though, as an innocent showcase of rugby league in the country town of Gladstone turned sour with a visit to a local strip club. Captain Daly Cherry-Evans and four other players that have remained unnamed visited ‘The Boardroom’ long after their curfew.
Later that night, Cherry-Evans and the remaining Manly contingent that attended the strip club were involved in a confrontation in Jackson Hastings’ hotel room. The incident had come after reports of a training ground bust up between the two playmakers at training a couple of weeks earlier.
The Sea Eagles later fined DCE and the four others for their behaviour, and held a team dinner which Hastings attended, where the club believed all disputes and disagreements between the pair were put behind them.
Boy were they wrong.
A heavy loss to Parramatta shortly after sparked a blame game between the players at Manly, and reignited the DCE/Hastings feud. Hastings was demoted to feeder club Blacktown by coach Trent Barrett, who was very public about his decision.
“He’ll be at Blacktown, he’s going to train at Blacktown,” Barrett said. “If it is to be at another club that would be terrific.”
He also added “This certainly isn’t a one-off incident. We have pretty well documented a lot of things over the past 12 months.”
Stories were being spread by the media about Hastings already having been an outcast in the Manly playing group, which it appeared was a factor in Barrett’s decision to exile Hastings.
However, several Manly players later came out backing Hastings and defending his actions, which established a divide in the squad. The losses continued in the weeks that followed, and it was a long time before Manly found form again.
Things only got worse for Manly, with 21-year-old prodigal five-eighth Lachlan Croker succumbing to his third ACL injury and being ruled out for the season. The earlier salary cap pressures meant that Manly did not have the capacity to sign a replacement, and with their logical next choice playmaker being Jackson Hastings, Barrett had limited options.
Eventually they had to move centre Dylan Walker to 6, with bad-boy Moses Suli coming into the starting side at 3.
Following that, hooker Apisai Koroisau suffered from a fractured foot which doctors said would sideline him for eight weeks. After the hooker was dubbed a potential dark horse for a NSW origin jersey, the club suddenly had to look for a new hooker with games against the Dragons, Panthers and Storm being their next fixtures.
At the start of the season Manly’s backup hooker had been… you guessed it… Jackson Hastings. But he’d already been released entirely from the club to take up a deal with English Super League side Salford.
Manly rushed to name star 19-year-old Manase Fainu for their upcoming clash with the St George Ilawarra Dragons. He’d been one of Blacktown’s most consistent performers for the first half of the season, and shared many qualities with Koroisau.
However, despite being named to make his debut, the NRL blocked him from playing due to him not being a member of Manly’s initial 30-man squad at the start of the season. Instead, the Sea Eagles had to name centre Matthew Wright to play in a 32-8 loss.
After a week of seeking official permission from the NRL, Manly finally were able to line up Fainu for his debut for the club. A decent debut performance from him saw Manly topple the table topping Panthers for their first win in five games.
Finally, things looked to be on the up on the northern beaches, and Manly fans were jumping right aboard the Fainu train. However, not long later it came out that the Fainu had filmed a sexual act without consent, which he then posted on social media.
Luckily for the Sea Eagles, the NRL policy on criminal offenses is to allow the player to play on until proven guilty. This has allowed Fainu to continue to play since being named against the Panthers.
However, he is scheduled to face court in the coming weeks, which is surely lingering in the back of his mind whilst he’s trying to play his best football.
Furthermore, if he is proven guilty, it could potentially open up a window where Manly are without Koroisau, Hastings and Fainu. Their first, second and third choice hookers.
So after all that, I’m sure you’ve reached the conclusion that things have been pretty bad up at Brookvale. The club has had a freakishly long list of crisis’ in what’s only been the first 19 rounds of the competition.
But they’ve overcome every single one of them.
After all that, you wouldn’t be surprised at all to find Manly leading the race for the Wooden Spoon. However, they have three teams below them leading into the final stretch of the season, including a Cowboys side that has absolutely no excuses to justify why they’re there.
Despite all of their troubles this season, they’ve still been able to find 54-0, 24-4, and 18-10 wins against Parramatta, Melbourne and Penrith respectively. A playing group with it’s leader questioned, it’s star injured and one exiled entirely has had it’s confidence shattered.
But it’s shown up every week with nothing to play for, and given it it’s all. Despite their points conceded in the game, they even managed to put 24 on the best defence in the comp last Sunday.
Maybe it’s something about the ability of the club to simply shake off adversity, or the leadership abilities of DCE and the Trbojevic brothers to pick up a squad of largely unheard of players week in week out, but you have to admire them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Manly fan, but this is a squad that’s had everything thrown at it, and has stayed together, and that’s something special.