Mid-Season Review: Manly Sea Eagles

Position after 13 Rounds: 4th
Wins: 7
Losses: 5
Byes: 1
Points: 16
Differential: 59


Last season was a bit of a disappointment for Manly fans after their side won the premiership in 2008, but the Sea Eagles look to be back on track this year after an impressive first half of the 2010 season.

There’s still a long way to go but Manly seems to be doing all the little things right to give themselves a shot at another premiership. After worryingly losing their first two games, the Sea Eagles have won seven from 10 and seem to be up in confidence.

Of their remaining 12 games, only five are against teams currently in the top eight (six if you count Melbourne), so they have a real opportunity to cement their spot and set up a home semi-final.

Many pundits were convinced the loss of Orford in the off-season and the inexperienced pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Kieran Foran would spell disaster for the club, but the young halves have been shining lights for the Sea Eagles, culminating in representative jerseys for both players.

Together with one of the best forward packs in the NRL, the Sea Eagles are placed nicely at the mid-point of the season.

Are Things Going To Plan? Coach Des Hasler is a hard man to please, but even he would be happy with the consistency his side has produced so far. Manly have won seven from 12 and four of their five losses were by small margins. Manly have led at half-time in all but one game. While Hasler would be unhappy with the losses in which his team let the lead slip (worryingly they didn’t score a point in the second halves in rounds 11-13), he will take much heart from the fact that his players are putting themselves in winning positions every game. (Other teams would love to have Manly’s problem of letting leads slip, as it is much easier to solve than if the team isn’t performing well in the first place.)

However, the Sea Eagles aren’t creating as much second-phase play as other teams, ranked 15th with only 8.9 offloads per game, and they’re 13th in the NRL for line-breaks with only 3.5 a game.

The Sea Eagles have shown their ability to grind down oppositions, but they could benefit from promoting the ball a bit more if they are to become the stand-out team of the competition.

Injury Front… The loss of Brett Stewart in Round 1 against the Tigers was a devastating blow, with the side also without NSW and Kangaroos representative David Williams for the season. Tony Williams has played some great games in the maroon and white, but you get the feeling Des Hasler would sometimes love to have David’s better decision making on the wing, particularly in defence.

Anthony Watmough and Chris Bailey were injured in the Broncos game, but it’s unclear yet how long both players will be out.

If Only… They hadn’t blundered in their first two games of the season. In Round 1, the Sea Eagles led the Tigers 20-4 with 22 minutes remaining, only to throw away the game in the final quarter. It was the same story the following week when they led Parramatta 20-0 with 19 minutes to go before losing in controversial circumstances (the infamous forward-pass try).

While Hasler was left fuming about the refereeing decisions that ultimately cost Manly victory in that game, he would’ve been equally dismayed at his team’s inability to get a win in the first two rounds after dominating both the Tigers and Eels for the majority of the matches.

Had the Sea Eagles been able to close out these games, they would be on top of the table and would be in a much better spot to grab a top-four place come finals time.

Who’s Flying…
Manly’s forwards have been excellent all year, particularly Brent Kite and Shane Rodney. Much of the media attention has gone to some of the other members of the pack, but the two are making big contributions.

Kite has started all but one game from the bench, but has been very effective and has posted some big numbers in attack. In less time per game than Jason King and Josh Perry, Kite has averaged 115.5 metres and an impressive 13.9 runs a game – more than anyone in his team. Considering he made 157 metres from 21 runs in the one game he started, Kite is putting serious pressure on Perry and King to get his starting spot back.

Rodney, too, has been one of Manly’s best, with 21 tackle-breaks and 109.2 metres per game, while also contributing an average 26.6 tackles a game. A real workhorse.

Needs To Lift… Chris Bailey has been used as a back-up five-eighth but has failed to offer much in attack there or from the interchange. With other bench players like Brent Kite putting himself forward as a go-to man for Hasler, Bailey needs to bring more energy to his game and get more involved.

Playing 36.1 minutes per game, Bailey isn’t making enough of an impact with his average 48.1 metres and 11.9 tackles per game.

Coach Des Hasler Tells NRL.com… “We’re at a stage that most sides have found themselves at the halfway point in the competition, having to work through injuries and getting through the Origin period, and we’ll just continue to work through this time.”

Predicted Finish… They’ve built the platform for the rest of the season, and look like a possible contender for the minor premiership. Should at least finish in the top-four.

Under-20s… Last year’s minor premiers won their first six from seven, but then lost consecutive games to Souths and the Dragons to bring them back to the pack somewhat. David Penna’s side responded in fine fashion, winning two in a row, one of which was against the table-topping Cowboys, to hoist them back into second place.

The stars of the show have been Gary Riccardi and William Hopoate, who have led their side all season and will give Manly a chance of a consecutive minor premiership if they continue their good form.