Season Preview: Manly Sea Eagles

JUST 15 months ago, Matt Orford stood onstage in front of a packed ANZ Stadium, filled largely with Manly fans, and held the NRL Premiership trophy aloft. On the back of a record grand final whitewash, the expert’s predictions began to rain down.<br><br>Plenty viewed this was a team capable of starting a dynasty. They were certainties to go back-to-back. We were all witness to a very special team – and Orford, Manly’s nuggety leader, was in the thick of it all.<br><br>But out at Narrabeen these days, Orford’s stumpy shadow has moved on; now the club is being death-ridden by critics who can’t see how a team without a recognised halfback or figurehead captain can bounce back from the sort of “disastrous” season the Sea Eagles suffered through in 2010.<br><br>But as they did in 2008, when they rallied against the popular opinion that they couldn’t beat Melbourne in big games, Manly are keen to dispel a few non-truths once again.<br><br>And leading the charge will be their superstar trio: the at-times-maligned but incredibly brilliant Brett Stewart, powerhouse back-rower Anthony Watmough and creative co-captain Jamie Lyon.<br><br>Make no mistake – even without Orford, Manly have a lot of star appeal on their roster and there is plenty of other talent at the disposal of wily coach Des Hasler.<br><br><b>Their Keys To Success…</b> Firstly, Brett Stewart needs to stay on the field. As fullback he is arguably Manly’s most important player in attack and defence, and nobody can question that overall he is the player most vital to the Sea Eagles’ premiership hopes. <br><br>Secondly, they need whoever takes over at halfback – be it Kieran Foran or Trent Hodkinson – to adapt to the flat style that Orford made so successful at Manly. <br><br>These are their two keys two success in 2010. And if Anthony Watmough can run around like he is covered in spiders – as he did for the final two months of the competition last year when nobody wanted to tackle him – then that won’t hurt either.<br><b><br>Expect Plenty From…</b> The NRL got a taste of Kieran Foran last year – he had the flavour of a tough, hard-working player with a good turn of pace. This year, fans and oppositions will be able to digest him in his true role as a playmaker. <br><br>Throughout his junior footy days, Foran was the one throwing the cut-out passes, putting boot to ball and creating tries for his team-mates. If he can apply those playmaking skills and maintain his running game from last year, Foran is in for one heck of a winter.<br><br><b>They’re Really Going To Miss…</b>As expected, the name ‘Orford’ will pop up here.<br><br>While Manly will miss his steadying influence over the next eight months it is probably a good thing for the club’s future to put their faith in young talent like Hodkinson and Foran – rather than risk losing two 20-year-olds to keep a 31-year-old.<br><br>Losing forwards Glenn Hall (UK), Adam Cuthbertson (Sharks) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roosters) was a blow to Hasler’s pack depth; it’s potentially another huge headache for the maroon and whites.<br><b><br>Time To Stand Up…</b> In a season of significant lows for the Manly, no player disappointed more than the starting front row of Brent Kite and Josh Perry. <br><br>Twelve months after Manly built their entire game plan around the dominant work rates of Kite and Perry, the bookends dropped their metres-gained by nearly 30 metres a game each! They will need to harden up and get back some form for Manly to be taken seriously.<br><br>Also, pressure will be on young giant Tony Williams to deliver too – he came to Manly with a ton of expectations, and was an underachiever more often than not. Williams is potentially a force to be reckoned with on the footy field… but only if his mind is switched on. For the sake of Manly’s large investment in him, fans will be hoping he, or someone, flicked the switch in the off-season.<br><br><b>Coach Watch…</b> Des Hasler faces his most difficult year in quite a few seasons after saying goodbye to a legion of senior players in the past 24 months, and we will see a good test of his coaching ability. <br><br>Based on the past five years, he must be in line for some representative coaching honours in the near future.<br><b><br>They’re All The Better For…</b> Joe Galuvao was instrumental in Parramatta’s stunning form reversal last season, with the wily old second-rower becoming the glue in the Eels’ pack. <br><br>Manly fans will hope for similar on-field output as well as a steadying influence off it, and Terence Seu Seu could provide the same off-the-bench spark that made Heath L’Estrange such a valuable member of their premiership-winning squad in 2008. <br><b><br>Predicted Finish…</b> They will need huge years from Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough to crack into the top eight, but that isn’t completely out of the question.<br><b><br>Toyota Cup…</b> Didn’t have the end of the season they probably deserved, when they were knocked out in the second week of the finals after winning the minor premiership – but it was still a fantastic year. <br><br>There has been some turnover of players – including losing Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Daly Cherry-Evans – but Manly will still field a formidable side. <br><br>Lama Tasi and Mitch Jowett will lead the forward pack, while fullback William Hopoate is something special and halfback Garry Ricardi will be worth keeping an eye on. The young Queenslander played five-eighth mostly last season, but is far more confident in the no.7 jersey and will play a big role in Manly’s season.