Daly Cherry-Evans has been a great Dream Team performer in his debut NRL season, but he has faced the axe from Middo's Magicians this week.
Home Record: 8 wins, 3 losses (5th)
Away Record: 8 wins, 5 losses (3rd)
Longest Winning Streak: 6 (Round 21-Round 26)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 3-5)
Players Used: 24
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 89 (=6th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 71 (3rd fewest)
It’s easy to forget given their humbling, bumbling defeat at the hands of Melbourne Storm in the Preliminary Final but Manly were, for the majority of the season, the testing material of the 2012 Telstra Premiership. There was an all-Origin back row, centres both hard-hitting and brilliant, super young halves already internationals, and a flying fullback good for a try a game.
Yet the saying that the season is divided into 26 rounds and the finals rang very true for the Sea Eagles and they went out with a whimper, not a bang.
But you don’t finish fourth in the Telstra Premiership with a team of mugs. And their fans enjoyed another season of fine, winning rugby league from a professional and high-skilled team. Hard-boned forward play combined with slick work in the backs gave Manly fans plenty to like. And while expectations are high at Brookvale and there’ll be some who’ll consider 2012 a failure, there’s lots to like about being a Manly fan.
Where They Excelled… Manly stayed in contests off the back of their long-kicking games – no side pumped the Steeden further downfield than the Sea Eagles in 2012, with a whopping 16,238 metres gained (89 metres more than the Storm through Round 26). It came with some downside however – they could find open space just 49.8 per cent of the time, which ranked them the fourth-least-accurate kicking unit in the Telstra Premiership.
Elsewhere, they ranked seventh in offloads (11.5 per game) and third best for points conceded (just 16.8). They also had good numbers for limiting line-breaks, offloads and metres. Despite close losses to the Titans, Bulldogs and the Storm Brookvale Oval kept its ‘Fortress’ moniker largely intact.
For the first time in recent memory they preferred to head right rather than left – no great surprise given Jamie Lyon’s presence on the right edge. Manly scored 38 tries on the right, compared with 33 on the left side.
Where They Struggled… From a purely statistical analysis, it’s hard to see how Manly finished as high as fourth after the regular season when they were middle of the road and below on so many pointers. They finished seventh in points scored and sixth in tries scored. They were eighth in tackle-breaks and line-breaks and eleventh in metres gained. And they missed the fifth-most tackles (35.5) per game. These are not the numbers of a premiership contender, yet for a lot of the competition Manly were very much that.
One area coach Geoff Toovey will hammer in particular over the next pre-season is defusing attacking kicks – Manly leaked tries to opposition boots like a sieve in 2012, with 28 scored, by far the most conceded by any team.
Missing In Action… Steve Matai’s one-match suspension for a high shot in the first Qualifying Final could have been worse given his record at the judiciary. But either way, like many of his team-mates, Matai played busted in the Preliminary Final. David Williams was rubbed out for the season in Round 16 while Glenn Stewart, Kieran Foran and Tony Williams had periods of rehab. Williams, so vital to their mongrel up front, played just 16 of a possible 27 games; Glenn Stewart managed just one game more.
Turning Point… The 16-10 loss to the Bulldogs in the Qualifying Final win week one of the playoffs really took the wind out of Manly’s sails. Before the game they were premiership favourites. After it, with their captain injured and an attack that looked impotent without him, their odds doubled. The Bulldogs played hard footy at high speed and knocked the stuffing out of them. If ever a team needed a week off to patch itself up, Manly was it. It was the hint of a chink in Manly’s armoury that Melbourne Storm well and truly exploited in the grand final qualifier when they touched them up to the tune of 40-12.
Best Games… In Round 16 Manly ran nine tries through the Roosters at Allianz Stadium and piled on 52 points. A week later they monstered Parramatta, scoring most of their 40 points before halftime. In Round 24 at Brookvale they again piled on the points before easing off after half-time in the 42-20 win over Newcastle.
Worst Games… Losing 22-4 to Penrith in Round 12 was bad – especially given they thumped the mountain men 30-nil just six weeks beforehand. Losing to Parramatta 29-20 in Round 5 was worse – it handed the eventual wooden spooners their first win for 2012. Losing 26-14 – at home – against the then-lowly Titans in Round 7 was another blemish. But the amount of ball Manly coughed up in the 40-12 loss to the Storm at AAMI Park in their final game of the season was beyond embarrassing. The Sea Eagles would not drop so many passes aimed directly at their chests in 10 years’ playing and training. In fact, it was a shock to see such normally excellent, professional players drop so many easy passes. It was easily Manly’s worst game of 2012 – and quite a few other years as well.
Hold Your Head High… Brett Stewart had a typically fine season, adding 14 tries to his career tally which now stands at 127. His brother Glenn was a very fine cog in Manly’s slick, right-side attack, combining brilliantly with Daly Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon. Captain Lyon (18 try assists, 15 line-break assists and 11 tries) also had a superb season and was arguably the best centre in the competition. And big front-rower Brent Kite made consistent territory (88 metres) with his hard charges. Cherry-Evans added plenty to his CV (95 tackle-breaks, most by a No.7) while Kieran Foran would be playing Origin footy if he qualified. And Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams was, at times, like Mal Meninga reincarnated.
Coach Geoff Toovey says: “Our year has been very good. We have had a lot of challenges and played a lot of good football. To finish on such a poor note is the disappointment. We are such a better side than that. I don't mind losing, I think we've had a fantastic season but to finish on that note with such a poor display I think I'm just really gutted. Myself and I think the players are terribly disappointed to finish the year on that note. I don't mind losing if we play well but we were just way off the mark.”
Conclusion… Teams need a bit of luck at the business end of the season and Manly’s ran out on completion of the regular season. They won’t use it as an excuse but their late-season injury toll effectively cruelled their campaign. Well, that and a woefully inept performance against Melbourne in their final game…
Still, plenty to like about Manly and it won’t surprise to see the 2011 premiers in the mix in the immediate years ahead.