Position after 13 rounds: 3rd
Competition points: 20
The great thing for Manly fans is your side is in the top strata halfway through the season despite not yet playing consistently at their peak. The Sea Eagles have lost just three games at the halfway point, giving them a great platform to finish in the top four… and at this rate they look certain to do so.
The side started the year with question marks over their new halfback and they have been without Brett Stewart more often than not. But they have quashed any doubts on both counts, and can definitely be considered one of the favourites for this year’s title. Even when they were below par, they generally found a way to win. Five of their wins have been by fewer than 12 points. And the side has been unstoppable at home, winning five from five.
Are Things Going to Plan? Mostly, yes. Before their past two emphatic wins against the Broncos and Bulldogs they were flying somewhat under the radar. But now all fans are standing up and taking notice. They average 23.2 points scored a match and just 13.8 against, ranking them third best in the NRL in both categories. They are second for tries scored (4.2), third in average metres gained (1390.4), fifth in line-breaks (4.6), offer the fifth-fewest errors (11.5), concede the third-fewest line-breaks (3.1) and concede the second-fewest offloads (8.2). If that’s not impressive enough the side is first in least average metres conceded (1196.8) and equal first when it comes to limiting missed tackles (26.3).
Des Hasler’s boys don’t have the easiest run home but it’s not brutal by any stretch. They get seven more home games (one is on the central coast) and play six games against teams currently outside the top eight, including Parramatta twice.
Injury Front... Fullback Brett Stewart has only been able to suit up for six games thus far due to an ongoing hamstring complaint but he was on deck in the last round and played impressively. Winger David Williams is another who has missed some games but with the side only needing to use 22 players thus far (equal fewest with the Cowboys), overall injuries have been kind. They will be hoping for similar luck down the stretch.
If Only… Brett Stewart had been fit more often. When he has played, the side has certainly looked more potent. He has slowly lifted his metres-gained average each week, with it now at 82, and already has three line-breaks, six line-break assists, three tries and seven try assists from just six games. As he grows in confidence about his dodgy knees and hamstring, watch for his speed and skill to boost too. He might not get back to his slashing best in terms of pace, but he’ll still be hard to catch.
As for the side’s losses – two of them have been by just two points. If they had of found a way to beat the Rabbitohs and Cowboys on those occasions they’d be in the middle of an 11-game winning run!
Who’s Flying… When a team is travelling so well as a unit it can be hard to focus on individuals but you can certainly make a case for Will Hopoate, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans.
Hopoate finds himself in the New South Wales Origin side as a 19-year-old, such is his influence and versatility. He has played fullback, wing and centre this year and has excelled in all positions. He has averaged 153 metres gained, has nine line-breaks, seven line-break assists, four try assists, 43 tackle-breaks and eight tries! No wonder Ricky Stuart is prepared to take a punt on the youngster. (Savour him for the rest of the year before he departs the NRL for a Mormon mission for the next two years.)
Foran continues to grow as a tenacious running five-eighth and creates plenty of space for his supports. His seven line-break assists and 10 try assists have been the catalyst for many a Manly win.
Cherry-Evans has also been phenomenal, especially considering he is a rookie. His searching running game is getting more impressive each week and his kicking game is also improving.
Needs to Lift… Brent Kite is still a solid player but those of us who have been around a while remember the blockbusting rep player and Clive Churchill Medal winner. They might be lofty standards but the Sea Eagles could really benefit if he could reproduce this level of form each week. Both he and Jason King need to get their metres-gained figures into triple figures.
Jamie Lyon was on a similar path until last week’s game. He was just doing the safe things and getting the bare minimum done at times without much risk. But he was awesome against the ‘Dogs so perhaps he is ready to lead this team into a top finish.
Coach Des Hasler tells NRL.com… “We have been very pleased with the younger players. We are not playing outstandingly each week but we are doing enough to get by but the great thing about us is we think we have a lot of improvement left in us.”
Predicted Finish… The Sea Eagles should be disappointed with anything other than a top-four finish. They get to keep their core side during rep season, the halves are getting better each week, and they are heavy on home games. They essentially only need three more wins to make the finals, but they’ll tally a few more than that. They’ll finish between second and fourth.
Under-20s… While the first grade team is doing wonderfully well the youth side is finding the going tough. The Sea Eagles’ under-20s have won just two games and sit dead last on the Toyota Cup ladder. Their season as far as finals is concerned is effectively over. Looking for positives, captain and prop Magnus Stromquist has served them well each week, averaging 121 metres from 15 runs with 30 tackles. Back-rower Jamie Anderson has run powerfully, busting 72 tackles and averaging 112 metres.