MVPs of 2014: Anthony Watmough
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
They may not have quite taken out the grand prize in 2013 but the Sea Eagles came mighty close, as Manly's tribe of ageing warriors proved plenty of doubters wrong in overcoming a brutal finish to the season and even more brutal finals campaign to run within a whisker of taking out yet another premiership.
Written off as "too old" in 2013, those players are now yet another year older. With the notable exception of their star halves and wing pairings, most of the senior playing group – Watmough, Jamie Lyon, Jason King, Steve Matai, Glenn Stewart, Matt Ballin, Brenton Lawrence – are either the wrong side of 30 or about to be.
They proved age is just a number last season and will need to do so again in 2014 if they want to repeat or improve on their runners-up status.
A key to that will be the 30-year-old Watmough, who despite a shoulder that seems to be increasingly troubling him, played 25 out of 28 possible games for Manly in 2013 – and it would have been more had he not played all three Origin games for NSW as well.
He might not quite have the same zip that made him one of the most dangerous back-rowers on the planet in Manly's 2007 premiership win but he still managed four tries and 46 offloads (fourth in the NRL), as well as 126 metres and 31 tackles per game in 2013. There is no doubt that Watmough will be a vital cog if Manly are to be successful, and like several other long-serving forwards he'll need to shoulder even more responsibility following the departures of Brent Kite, George Rose, Joe Galuvao and David Gower.
Co-captain and prop Jason King played just four games in 2013 and will head into 2014 coming off a shoulder reconstruction (although he has said he is on track to play in Round 1), with fellow prop Richie Fa'aoso looking to return from a fractured vertebrae suffered a week before the grand final loss to the Roosters. Further absences to either or both of those players would heap further responsibility on Watmough and co.
Although the side has picked up a couple of young props in Josh Starling and Dunamis Lui, it is the senior players such as Watmough and Stewart who will need to lead the way on the field. At his best he is still an 80-minute player who can run brilliant angles, punch through the line, offload at will and make bags of tackles. In the absence of a number of senior forwards, that's the Watmough Manly will be hoping to see throughout 2014.