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Sea Eagles 2021 season preview: Was last year's failure just bad luck?

Des Hasler will be hoping for better luck after injuries crippled his Sea Eagles in 2020.

Already Manly have copped a setback with fullback Tom Trbojevic's latest hamstring injury, though thankfully for the club the NSW and Australia star will return in the early rounds.

Their most influential player, "Turbo" was restricted to seven matches last year. When combined with other long-term casualties like Dylan Walker, the Sea Eagles struggled for consistency.

Just a season after Hasler returned as coach and took Manly from 15th to the finals, they crashed to 13th.

But there's a sense they could again rocket back into the playoffs.

The Sea Eagles' 2020 season in review

The 2021 outlook

What's new

Foran is battling with exciting youngster Josh Schuster for the five-eighth position. The former Bulldog has also spent time training at hooker, another role that needs filling following Danny Levi's exit. Lachlan Croker and Cade Cust are other No.9 options.

Manly have lost star prop Addin Fonua-Blake to the Warriors but gained another forward heading towards elite territory in Josh Aloiai, who was released from the Wests Tigers.

Towering winger Jason Saab has joined the club from St George Illawarra and looks set to grab a starting spot with Jorge Taufua (Achilles) injured.

Tough second-rowers Joel Thompson (St Helens) and Corey Waddell (Bulldogs) are gone, but Andrew Davey (Eels) provides cover in that area. Outside back Christian Tuipulotu has come across from the Roosters, while Brendan Elliot and Tony Williams weren't re-signed.

Albert Hopoate (Raiders) and Luke Metcalf (Sharks) also moved on.

Turbo: Foran has an aura

The draw

Manly draw was regarded the 10th toughest when NRL.com crunched the numbers when the schedule was announced in November. They will have 11 games against 2020 finalists.

A testing opening to the season is comprised of meetings with the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Panthers before round five - and they'll be without Tom Trbojevic for some, if not all, of this period.

The burning question

Can Tom Trbojevic and Foran stay fit for most of the season?

It might seem extreme, but it's not baseless to suggest the Sea Eagles' campaign hinges on whether Trbojevic can remain on the park once he returns from his newest hamstring injury.

The electric custodian's impact is profound: Manly won 14 of the 19 games he played in 2019 and 2020 (74 percent).

With their marquee No.1 sidelined, the Sea Eagles have won only eight of 27 games (30 percent) in the same period.

Trbojevic and Foran crucial to Sea Eagles' chances

Perhaps Foran will negate the team's reliance on Trbojevic for attacking brilliance - but the pivot has struggled with injury issues himself, managing only 66 matches in the past five years.

While his shoulder, pectoral and hamstrings have given him grief, Foran's class is still evident. He won Canterbury's 2020 Player of the Year award despite missing six matches.

If he and Trbojevic are able to stay on the field and build a strong combination, Manly will likely be a force.

Stat that gives you hope

Up until round seven last year, a week after Trbojevic and Walker were injured, the Sea Eagles sat comfortably in seventh place with four wins and two losses - one a controversial defeat to the Eels.

That kind of form is enough to suggest that with a healthier squad this season, Manly can return to the finals.

Breakout player to watch

Josh Schuster

He's only played one game, but Schuster is creating a name for himself, thanks in part to Benji Marshall saying his opposing five-eighth's performance against the Wests Tigers in round 17 last year was "the best debut I've seen from a young kid in my time, ever".

Confident in his abilities - and you can see why going off his juniors highlights reel - the 19-year-old has said he wants the No.6 jersey but is happy to bide his time if Foran starts.

Analysing the Sea Eagles' 2021 draw

Contract matters

Some tough decisions may need to be made with a stack of genuine first-graders unsigned for 2022; a list headed by Foran, Walker, Curtis Sironen, Brad Parker, Reuben Garrick and Jorge Taufua.

Others like Jack Gosiewski, Morgan Boyle, Lachlan Croker, Tevita Funa and Toafofoa Sipley also have undecided futures.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

If uninjured, Tom Trbojevic ($477k) is pretty close to a must-have player at his price tag. Josh Schuster ($274k) looks excellent value if he wins the No.6 jersey, Andrew Davey ($364k) will be a cash cow if he starts in the second row and Daly Cherry-Evans ($866k) is among the safest Fantasy options in the halves.

The quote

"As a squad last year, whether we were up to it or not, we got a lot of experience and I think we'll be better for it ... Last year was an example of what can go wrong, but I think if we learn from it and people use that experience they had last year of [being in] first-grade, that can really help us this season," - captain Daly Cherry-Evans.

The good, the bad and the likely

The good: Tom Trbojevic successfully returns from injury, forming a lethal combination with Foran and Cherry-Evans to boost the Sea Eagles back into the top eight.

The bad: A shocking injury toll continues and Manly can't find much cohesion, leaving them lagging behind.

The likely: Finishing just inside or outside the top eight looks a strong possibility for a team with plenty of talent at full-strength, but perhaps lacking in depth compared to other sides.

Sea Eagles in 2021

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