Manly Sea Eagles 2018 season review
As part of the NRL.com series reviewing each club's 2018 season, Scott Hazlewood looks at how Manly struggled on and off the field as various issues bubbled to the surface.
Manly's roller-coaster of a season will be remembered more for what happened off the field than on it, with drama and controversy overshadowing some impressive victories.
Between Jackson Hastings' demotion and eventual release and the bitter fighting between coach Trent Barrett, chairman Scott Penn and CEO Lyall Gorman, the Sea Eagles limped home to eventually finish in 15th spot, only just avoiding what would have been the club's first wooden spoon.
Injuries also played a significant role in a forgettable season, with hooker Api Koroisau (foot), Akuila Uate (ankle), Lachlan Croker and Curtis Sironen (knee reconstructions) all missing significant game time.
Tom Trbojevic again showed why he is one of the best players under 25 in the NRL, scoring nine tries in 22 games. Averaging 174 running metres this season, Trbojevic along with his brother Jake are the cornerstones of Manly's future. Tom also shone for NSW on the wing as the Blues secured the State of Origin honours 2-1.
The biggest 'what if' when it comes to Manly is if their off-field turmoil never happened, would they be playing beyond round 25? It could be argued the upheaval was on the horizon for a while, given the Sea Eagles have had three CEOs and are into their third football manager since Barrett's tenure began in 2016. The impact on the playing group will never be fully known.
"It has been tough from the get-go and in the end, it has become untenable," Trent Barrett on the breakdown in vital working relationships that ended up with him handing in his resignation as coach of the club.
The defeat of Melbourne in round 11 ranks as one of the few bright moments on the field for the Sea Eagles. They made the most of an explosive incident in which Storm centre Curtis Scott was sent off after punching Dylan Walker, eventually running out 24-4 winners at AAMI Park.
With seven losses by 16 points or more this season, there were also some ugly moments this year. Manly's 44-10 defeat to Parramatta in round seven was not only one of the largest losing margins they faced all year, but it was an 88-point swing in favour of the Eels, who the Sea Eagles beat 54-0 in round two at Lottoland.
The Sea Eagles have been crippled by their salary cap sanctions and their main signing for 2019 is fringe Titans five-eighth Kane Elgey. They are saying farewell to winger Akuila Uate (Huddersfield), Shaun Lane (Eels) and Jonathan Wright (retirement).
Next season seems a long way off for Sea Eagles fans when there is still so much to be decided over the next few months.
While John Cartwright is the warm favourite to take over the coaching reigns from Trent Barrett, whoever jumps into the hot seat will have a massive job turning around the team's fortunes.
Much like this season, the health of Jake and Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Marty Taupau will be critical if they are to make any inroads towards returning to the top eight.