Sea Eagles Mid-Season Review
A decade of success could come to an abrupt end with little more than a whimper this season for a Manly Sea Eagles side plagued with injuries and off-field bickering. While critics believed the Sea Eagles would struggle in 2015 with the departures of long-serving stalwarts Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough, few could have predicted the Sea Eagles would sit last on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder at the halfway point of the season with a 3-9 record.
Player movements have dominated headlines since December, with Kieran Foran opting to leave the club at the end of the year to join the Eels and halfback Daly Cherry-Evans agreeing to a highly publicised move from Manly to the Gold Coast, only to renege just before the Round 13 deadline to declare himself a Sea Eagle for life.
Coach Geoff Toovey has faced the same heightened scrutiny, with the club legend seemingly a dead man walking despite leading the Sea Eagles to a grand final, preliminary final and a one-point semi-final loss in his three years in charge.
For Manly fans, it has truly been a year to forget after an unprecedented era for the club where they have made the finals every year since 2005.
The run home: A four-round stretch from Round 19-22 could be make or break for the Sea Eagles as they clash with four top-eight sides in a row.
The Sea Eagles will need to win all six games against the lowly ranked teams and hope to jag a couple of wins against Rabbitohs (Round 16), Cowboys (Round 19), Warriors (Round 20), Broncos (Round 21), Rabbitohs (Round 22) and Roosters (Round 25) if they are to sneak into the finals.
After the Round 20 clash with the Warriors across the Tasman, Manly's furthest road trip for the final six rounds will be Canberra.
Game to remember: With only three wins in the books, games for Manly to remember have been few and far between this season. Two of those victories have come against longstanding rivals and competition high flyers Melbourne, both by just two points. Without those wins, Manly would have started the season 0-8.
The one that got away: A one-point loss to the Panthers at Brookvale Oval in Round 10, followed by a heart-breaking 18-14 loss to the Cowboys a week later when the Sea Eagles led for all but two minutes of the contest, could prove to be the season-defining games. The competition points lost in those consecutive games is the difference between sitting pretty in ninth and being anchored to the bottom of the ladder.
MVP: Off the field Daly Cherry-Evans has dominated headlines all season, but on the field, he has been arguably Manly's best. Instrumental in their victories and often their best in losing efforts, the media scrutiny hasn't affected his efforts on the field. Manly's No.7 has the fifth most try assists of any player in the competition, not bad for a team coming 16th.
Stats that matter: Manly have made the fewest kick return metres (1686), the second-fewest line breaks (31) and fourth fewest completed sets (330) in the competition. Their inability to penetrate the line or get their sets off to a good start has been a constant downfall this season.
Fantasy stud: Daly Cherry-Evans is the standout, averaging a whopping 61 points per game to easily top Manly's list. Blake Leary has been the surprise packet of the year, averaging a respectable 43.4 points and rising in value $152,000 for smart or lucky Fantasy coaches.
Injury report: The tale of the Sea Eagles' campaign is laid bare in the injury department. Kieran Foran was injured in the opening game of the season and it has been a long tale of woe ever since. Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Jamie Buhrer, Tom Trbjoveic, Clinton Gutherson, Josh Starling and Brenton Lawrence have all spent extended stints on the sidelines, with Manly unable to keep the same 13 let alone 17 on the park at any stage during the season. Geoff Toovey would pull his hair out, if he had any.
What they are saying: "We can't afford to keep giving quality sides easy field position," coach Geoff Toovey said.
"We thought the last month of football we have played some good footy, there have just been specific areas of games that have let us down. When you aren't winning matches it is pretty hard, it just tends to snowball and things don't go your way."
Predicted finish: It just hasn't been their season and while they have the potential to make a late-season charge, the record indicates the Sea Eagles will continue to struggle in 2015. The club has never won the wooden spoon since its inception in 1947, so we'll back them to do enough to avoid it, without troubling the top eight. 14th.