Putting the fear of ‘Fortress Brookvale’ back into Lottoland Oval for visiting teams is a mission for the Manly Sea Eagles in 2018 as well as shoring up defence. Analysis of the stats by Paul Zalunardo and Margie McDonald show that while Manly played finals football by finishing sixth on the ladder, they were 11th when it came to points scored against them after 26 rounds.
So that is one area of concentration this pre-season, along with carrying on that tribal feeling at Lottoland. Wins over the Wests Tigers (round 19), Sydney Roosters (round 22) and the Penrith Panthers (round 26) were before bumper crowds that weren’t there when the Sea Eagles lost three of their first four at home in 2017 (to Parramatta, South Sydney and St George Illawarra).
Coach Trent Barrett is reasonably happy his 14 wins for the season were split at seven at home and seven away. However, the home record should be higher.
A winning away record (7-5) played a major role in the Sea Eagles reaching the finals, but their home mark (also 7-5) cost them a chance to finish in the top four. Conceding more than 20 points a match didn’t help.
''Wins are all worth two (competition) points but you want to win every home game obviously,'' Barrett said.
''It's taken a while, because we had so many new players here, it nearly took the best part of 12 months for Brookvale felt like home to them as they weren’t from there.
''But now that’s changing. We had some really good performances there through the back end of the year. We played some of our best footy there at Brookie. We were pretty good on the road because the boys enjoy getting away into camp. But we’d like to pick up one or two or three more wins at home.''
Tom and Jake Trbojevic combined to score 21 tries, a mark they look set to at least repeat several times over the next decade. As far as building blocks for the future go, these brothers are as good as it gets.
''Akuila Uate with 14 tries, Dylan (walker) with 13 and Tom (Trbojevic) with 12 were our best and they all had great years, Aku in particular,'' Barrett said.
''I was very happy from him particularly since he came from pretty much 12 months in reserve grade (at Newcastle). He was at the crossroads really. But to his credit he worked really hard and is now an important part of our side.
''Having him and Jorge (Taufua) carry the ball back is great. We all know what Tom and Brian (Kelly) and Dylan can do so that’s a really good back five for us.''
With Daly Cherry-Evans leading the way, the Sea Eagles fared well in the long-kicking department. DCE also finished 10th in total kicking metres in the NRL.
Manly finished seventh in support and decoys plays per match, according to NRL.com/stats. Daly Cherry-Evans and brothers Jake and Tom Trbojevic helped them average 4.79 line breaks per match – the third best mark in the league.
No Sea Eagle set the world on fire in this department, but in terms of total runs with the ball and metres gained, fullback Tom Trbojevic was their best by a considerable margin.
Blake Green was the leading man in this category, but his transgressions weren’t as frequent as the worst offenders from other teams. Manly conceded 30 tries in the set of six after conceding a penalty – the fifth-highest number in the competition.
Manly made a league-low 218 errors for the season. For all his good work, Tom Trbojevic did struggle when it came to errors. His tally of 34 was just one less than the competition’s highest total.
''I’m not worried at all by Tom's figures,'' Barrett said. ''Because we did complete at a fairly high rate and our errors were the least in the comp. Stats can be a bit misleading because you could read into that we probably didn’t play a lot of footy.
''But we scored the third most amount of tries. So that shows it wasn’t as if we were conservative when we did have the ball. I was really happy with that.
''Our attack got better as the season went on and it will be much the same next season.''
Manly fared very well in this department, with Martin Taupau, Brenton Lawrence and Jake Trbojevic finishing in the top 30 for attracting multiple defenders.
Manly’s bench players failed to create any real impact on the scoreboard. Don’t forget Nate Myles played just eight matches off the bench before joining Melbourne.
''We had a few injuries off our bench last time. That’s something that’s so important – to be able to bring on fresh legs and maintain your position on the field. If Marty (Taupau) and Jake (Trbojevic) are having a spell we need someone to come on and maintain standards,'' Barrett said.
“I think we’ve got that covered this year, provided we stay healthy, with Lloyd Perrett, and Kelepi (Tanginoa), Addin Fonua-Blake and Toafofoa Sipley. We’ll have some grunt there and a bit of impact coming off the bench.''
Halves Blake Green and Daly Cherry-Evans combined to earn their side an extra 43 attacking sets during the year. Green finished first in the NRL on this individual stats list, with Cherry-Evans fifth.