WHAT price a repeat? It's not been done for a long, long time.
This time last year it looked as if Manly had hit their peak by reaching a grand final, and were ready to slide back down the ladder that they had climbed over the previous four seasons.
The history books will show that they proved the critics wrong, using a grand final defeat and constant media doubt as motivation to emphatically reverse the 2007 loss with a 40-0 victory over Melbourne.
This time around they’ve been installed as short-priced favourites to take out the premiership, and will carry the weight of expectation into every weekend – and how they deal with that pressure will go a long way to explaining how they will fare in 2009.
They absolutely have the roster to be one of the main contenders. Despite losing a wealth of experience when Steve Menzies, Steve Bell, Luke Williamson and Mark Bryant left last year, Manly have made some shrewd recruitments and will boast a youthful side with plenty of big-game experience, with the likes of Brett Stewart (23), Jamie Lyon (27) and Brent Kite (27) all leaders of the team despite their relatively young ages.
The danger is the off-field trouble. While it may not seem like it straight away, off-field tension never lends itself to on-field success.
If Manly are having issues in the boardroom, they will want to sort them out as soon as possible or risk letting the bad vibes filter through to the dressing room.
How They’ll Play Itt
Look for Manly to play a similar style of football to that which won them the competition last year. With a hard-working forward pack leading the way, Des Hasler will encourage his side to play high-intensity football, with a strong structure that allows for no mistakes, and relies heavily on the attacking general, Matt Orford, to fashion the attacking raids.
Add to this a dash of individual brilliance from Jamie Lyon, the Stewart brothers Glenn and Brett, and Steve Matai, who will all play the role of roving five-eighth around the park.
Keep An Eye On
Jamie Lyon is expected to move back to the centres, where he initially made his name in the NRL.
‘Killer’ made a successful transition to become a five-eighth, producing some exceptional football in the finals series last year, but with the extra space out wide he could find another gear.
Lyon scored 15 tries at centre in 2001, and a further 14 in 2003 – he’s capable of magical things when the field opens up a bit.
They’ll Really Miss
Goes without saying it’s club great Steve Menzies, who will finish his career with Bradford.
The Beaver has been an institution at Brookvale since his debut in 1993, and the club will miss him for more than just his ability to score tries and cover gaps in defence. They’ll miss his experience, his work ethic, his leadership and perhaps most importantly, his ability to break up training with a quick joke or smart comment.
Menzies was well loved by the Manly faithful, and the team will take on an entirely different look when they face up to the Bulldogs in round one – minus the big fella in headgear with the giant nose.
It’s Time To Stand Up
David Williams had a magnificent season in 2008. It saw him rise from an injury-prone reserve grader to one of the NRL’s most popular cult figures with a premiership ring and an Australian jersey. But the thrill has worn off; now we will see if the Wolfman is made of the right stuff.
And with Michael Bani snapping at his heels, he’ll never get a chance to relax!
When he took over as head coach of the Sea Eagles in 2004, very few people expected Des Hasler to be in the position for longer than his initial three-year contract. But the cagey boy from Penrith has turned around an entire organisation in just five seasons.
After taking a group of stragglers from the bottom of the ladder to premiership glory, Hasler’s new goal is to create a dynasty on the northern beaches.
They’re All The Better For
Experiencing as little change as possible in the off-season. While they lost some big names, all of the departing players were winding down by the end of the year and their departures had been expected for a number of months.
Premiership-winning squads are usually torn apart, but Manly have managed to maintain some stability, with the core of the team returning in 2009.
You’d put your house on them finishing in the top four – even anything outside of the top two would be a disappointment after the team made such giant strides last season.
They have the roster to go back to back, and if they can negotiate the draining representative season, they’ll give themselves a strong chance.
Our tip: Anywhere between first and third.
A promising season last year, with an under-rated team finishing just outside the top eight. The Sea Eagles were not expected to trouble too many teams, but a disciplined outfit unearthed a number of genuine stars of the future – all of whom will make a return in 2009.
Young half Kieran Foran, the freakishly gifted William Hopoate and giant back-rower Jared Waerea Hargreaves all made their mark on the Toyota Cup last year and have come back bigger and better, with coach David Penna anticipating a more successful season with the core of his squad on board again.
Also keep an eye out for aggressive back-rower Michael Tiopira, who can thrill crowds with robust runs and enthusiastic defence.
A summer spent with the world’s number one team, punctuated by a dream two-week trip to England, has bright young half Kieran Foran primed for a breakout season with Manly’s Toyota Cup team.
Keep an eye out for more on Kieran Foran when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.