Mid-season Report Card
Position after 13 rounds: 10th
Okay, hands up, right now: who really thought this is where they’d be at the halfway mark of the season? Dissecting Manly’s atrocious start to the year, and pondering whether they will in fact even make the finals...
It is a scene so far removed from their victorious send-off of Steve Menzies last season that fans have to wonder if it really is the same team running around on the park each week.
Sexual assault allegations, club in-fighting, star players slapping sponsors and a disastrous form slump to start the season… surely it wasn’t meant to be like this?
But sure enough, just when it was time to write Manly off (which most people did after their Round 8 loss to the Storm), they have managed to claw their way back into contention.
Five wins from their past eight matches actually have the Sea Eagles in a position where a finals spot is quite attainable – if they keep their heads screwed on until at least September.
Are Things Going To Plan? Are they going to plan? Not unless Des Hasler is so committed to flying under the radar that he planned for the club to self-destruct in pre-season! As defending premiers, the plan is usually to have a crack at making the finals the next year. Manly on the other hand, have done the unimaginable – after an all-too-public boardroom tiff they’ve done everything within their power to turf a successful CEO, endured one of the most drama-filled season openings in history and watched as the club lost six of their first eight games. That’s not much of a plan…
Injury Front… To be fair, injuries haven’t been kind. The loss of Brett Stew…wait, are we allowed to mention the Manly fullback? Is Des Hasler reading? Stewart’s knee injury, despite what the Manly camp will try and tell you, is catastrophic for this team. The man who organises the defence and sparkles in attack has missed all but two games this season – in those two games he scored five tries, and Manly won comfortably. He isn’t expected back until just before the finals.
Aside from Stewart, Manly have also missed Australian winger David Williams (only played once in the first seven rounds with a shoulder complaint), Adam Cuthbertson (hasn’t been sighted since Round 8 due to an elbow injury), Michael Bani (knee injury since Round 9), Tony Williams (missed the start of the year with a hamstring strain) and Jamie Lyon (whose right leg has forced him from the field several times this year).
If Only… If only, if only… If only Max Delmege and Scott Penn had kissed and made up at the start of the year. If only the boozy season launch had been better controlled. If only Brett Stewart hadn’t copped a knock to his knee and been all but ruled out for the season. Excuses are easy to fall back on, but they don’t get you to the finals – which is why coach Hasler has avoided them at all costs.
Who’s Flying… Jamie Lyon has been the rose among thorns this year. In the opening month of footy Lyon was the only Sea Eagle who looked like he had played in a grand final the year before, and at the halfway mark of the year Lyon leads Manly in tries (eight) and points (68), is second in line-breaks (five), try assists (five) and tackle breaks (33). In recent weeks Matt Orford (12 try assists), Anthony Watmough (75 tackle breaks, 124 metres a game and eight line breaks) and Chris Bailey (five tries, five line breaks, three try assists) have all come to the party.
Needs To Lift… It goes without saying that as a team the Sea Eagles need to continue to lift if they are to make the finals – their forwards in particular. Josh Perry has been disappointing, averaging just 77 metres a game and never laying the platform for his halves, while Glenn Stewart, Glenn Hall and Brent Kite have also all been well down on their premiership-winning form. Consequently, Matt Orford has looked rushed and has struggled to find the level of play he achieved last year when he won the Dally M medal.
Des Hasler Tells NRL.com: “I think we’re getting more consistent now, and that’s a fair way of looking at our season. There’s been enough said on the negatives, I don’t want to dwell on them. We know we’re in a tough spot and we’ve got to keep winning. We’ve got fight hard to keep going.”
Predicted Finish… Despite it all, a good chance to sneak into the top eight, but after their horror start to the year, perhaps a ninth-placed finish would be more appropriate.
Under-20s… The brightest part of the season for the Sea Eagles so far, the Toyota Cup kids are travelling along tremendously. They enter Round 14 after a 42-0 thrashing of the Roosters lifted them to the top of the ladder with just two losses to their name and have unearthed a number of potential first graders – Kieran Foran is destined for Manly’s no.6 jersey, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has signed a massive contract with the Roosters and there are a host of other players who have stood out. William Hopoate, Darcy Lussick and Daly Cherry-Evans have all shone throughout the season.