New-look Manly can challenge again: Ballin
They may have lost some big names and plenty of experience after the 2014 season, but with new players coming in and young stars on the rise the Sea Eagles will again be a title threat in 2015 according to hooker Matt Ballin.
When Manly recently announced the signings of experienced prop Willie Mason from Newcastle, ball-playing lock Feleti Mateo from the Warriors, and big Sharks prop Siosaia Vave, coach Geoff Toovey pointed to the need to replace "about 2000 games" of NRL experience.
At a club media opportunity announcing Coco Joy as a new sleeve sponsor, Ballin was philosophical about the departures of a host of Manly premiership-winners including Jason King (retired), Anthony Watmough (Parramatta) and Glenn Stewart (Rabbitohs) – as well as the departure a year earlier of names like Brent Kite (Panthers).
"I think the club will always be the same –there's going to be a legacy passed on from player to player," Ballin said.
"We're definitely going to miss these players, they've been such a big part of our club, but that's part of the game these days – players move and the players that have stayed here have to pass on that legacy that they've created. It's our responsibility and new guys like Willie have a responsibility to keep the club in a good place and wear the jersey well each week."
The 30-year-old veteran described the departing players as "irreplaceable" and conceded they left a big hole to fill. "But with the players that we've got and the young guys that are coming through and Willie coming I think we're going to go a good way to replacing them as best we can," he added.
Ballin – who cracked a fibula in Round 25 against Penrith in the same game back-up hooker Jamie Buhrer ruptured an ACL, scuppering Manly's finals hopes – said it was "very hard" watching the side go down in a golden-point thriller in a grand final qualifier against the Bulldogs.
"Going down in a field goal was devastating for them and us watching as well but I think they did a great job, they were courageous; it provides a big motivation for me this year," he said.
"I haven't missed too many games in the past years and to sit on the sidelines was pretty hard and I want to be fit for the year this year and make amends for missing those games."
Ballin said while he thinks the side would have been a big chance of winning that game had himself, Buhrer and the suspended Watmough played, "you can't look back on it now with regret".
"It's just the way it is, there are injuries in the game and that's what happened. It would have been nice to be playing but you can't win them all."
The fibula is the non-weight-bearing bone in the lower leg and Balin said he would have played the grand final if the Sea Eagles had stayed alive for one more week.
"I'm 100 per cent now. I was really close to playing that game. It just wasn't right but if I had another week I would have been ok. Its 100 per cent now the leg and I'm back into training Monday."
Once again, the premiership title will be Manly's aim heading into 2015.
"The mix of players will be really good. The guys we had last year that were young have a year of experience and can only go better towards the finals.
"[Junior prop] Jake Trbojevic, he was injured last year – I think he's going to go really well. His brother Tom, he's a bit young but he'll be around in a couple of years – he's a great fullback or outside back, we've got young Hughey [NYC player Hugh Pratt] who's a young hooker that will show great promise.
"Jayden Hodges who you saw in the finals who I thought was incredible for us, coming in and playing that many minutes and tough with the way he was battered and injured. So we've got plenty of guys coming through, that's not going to be an issue, it's just bringing them through at the right time, and having a mix of that youth and experience."