Symonds: No choice but to lead
Sea Eagles back rower Tom Symonds insists the now-senior crop of back-rowers at the club – himself, Justin Horo and Jamie Buhrer – have no choice but to stand up and be leaders in a new-look forward pack.
With one-time skipper Jason King and back-row stalwarts Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart all having moved on after season 2014, it will be up to the current crop of back-rowers and experienced recruits Feleti Mateo and Willie Mason to lead the way, according to Symonds.
"It is a bit of a change, losing a few guys – Jason King was a massive part of our team dynamic," Symonds told NRL.com.
"There are a few new faces and it's always refreshing to get a few new guys amongst the boys. So far so good, everyone's happy and training well so there's plenty of competition for spots and we're looking fine."
Going into his third season at Manly, the former Rooster said the club's more experienced players feel the extra responsibility in the absence of King, Watmough and Stewart.
"Particularly in the forwards since the guys that have moved on were our leaders and the older guys so we don't have much of a choice, we have to stand up and be leaders," he said.
"Guys that have been there a couple of years – myself and Justin Horo, Brenton Lawrence, Jamie Buhrer – we've been under the older guys for a few years now and now it's our turn to lead the way."
Symonds also welcomed the injection of new blood into the roster.
"Big Mase, he's always going to bring some character to a team. He's a loud guy that puts a smile on everyone's face and he's a massive human as well so he's going to add some size to our pack which is something we need as well.
"Feleti's ball work and his footwork, his skill and read of the game are excellent so it's another dynamic that he's added.
"Blake Leary's been pretty impressive since coming down, he's a good fella and we get on well. He's trained well and he runs a good line and he's had a couple of good years up there so I don't think he's going to look too out of place if he gets the chance to start with us.
"Michael Chee-Kam has trained well for a couple of years with us but hasn't had much opportunity so again, he's looking really good at training, he's fit and he's fast so I'm expecting big things from him."
On his own game, Symonds said it was good to be enjoying a solid injury-free run after some horror years earlier in his career.
"I definitely had my injury concerns for a few years and the last couple of years I've managed to get a fair bit of footy under my belt which has been really good, and this year I'm obviously hoping to continue that and continue with my development in the team, nail down some permanent high minutes and stamp a bit of authority and demand my spot in the team."
While it is not on the immediate radar, Symonds said he would love to add to the one City Origin jersey he earned in 2011.
"It would definitely be something I'd love to do; playing City Country excited me and I'd love to do that again but my goal at the moment is just to nail a starting spot that's probably going to be my goal.
"I know I can do a good job, I've just got to do enough in the trials and try and get that. I'm trying not to look too far ahead, I'm just focusing on the start to the year and see how we go from there."
Despite Manly's disappointing straight sets exit from the 2014 finals series after almost claiming the minor premiership, Symonds said there were plenty of positives to take out of that season overall.
"That unfortunate end didn't really reflect how we went throughout the year because we were up there for most of the year. I guess from that we can draw the fact that we were written off last year and we put ourselves in a position to be there at the business end.
"We're always confident at the club that if we're playing well and sticking to our structures we know we're going to be there at the end of the year, so I guess last year just proved it."
He added he is more than happy for the critics to once again write the northern beaches club off before a ball is kicked.
"It takes a bit of pressure off if people aren't expecting us to do well but at the same time you don't really listen to what other people think about where you're going to finish, there are 15 other teams that are going to be trying to play finals footy and I think everyone's quite confident as well and we're no different."