In a nutshell…
For the previous decade, Manly had been playing finals football and 2015 was expected to be a continuation of that. But a horror injury run, massive off-field distractions, particularly around the contracts of Test halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, and the future of head coach Geoff Toovey put paid to their 10-season streak. Ultimately, Manly won just four of their first 14 games and sat at the bottom of the ladder. An end of season run which saw them finish just one win shy of eighth-placed St George Illawarra. They’ve had plenty of changes to their roster in preparation for a return to the September action in 2016 as Trent Barrett takes the coaching reins.
Gains: Lewis Brown (Penrith), Fabian Goodall (Parramatta), Nathan Green (St.George-Illawarra), Isaac John (Penrith), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith), Darcy Lussick (Parramatta), Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers), Nate Myles (Gold Coast), Matt Parcell (Brisbane), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers), Dylan Walker (South Sydney), John Walker (Rugby Union), Tom Wright (Rugby Union)
Losses: Matt Ballin (Wests Tigers), Cheyse Blair (Melbourne), Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers), Kieran Foran (Parramatta), Clinton Gutherson (Parramatta), James Hasson (Parramatta), Peta Hiku (Penrith), Justin Horo (Catalan Dragons), Jack Littlejohn (Wests Tigers), Dunamis Lui (St.George-Illawarra), Willie Mason (Catalan Dragons), Will Pearsall (Newcastle), Ligi Sao (New Zealand Warriors), Jesse Sene Lefao (Cronulla), David Williams (retired)
Manly’s roster has had its biggest shake-up since 2004. The changes have been measured and well thought out, adding some much needed starch to their depth, especially up front and in the halves.
Despite the numerous roster changes, the Sea Eagles backline has lost just Peta Hiku, which is a big loss, but young Tom Trbojevic impressed last year and is expected to be even better this year; the teenage flyer will grab a wing spot, but is also Brett Stewart’s fullback understudy. Manly have won 48% of games when Jamie Lyon hasn’t been available, compared to just under 65% when he has played. If the evergreen 34-year-old stays fit, Manly become a much more dangerous outfit.
With Foran gone and no genuine replacement for him brought to the club, Manly it seems will have Dylan Walker at five-eighth, playing practically as a roving third centre, while Cherry-Evans will be playing both sides of the field, harking back to the days of past halfbacks like Peter Sterling. It will be a tall order for DCE, but he’s a quality player and this could see him hit some career-best form. Isaac John, Tim Moltzen, Tom Wright and Lyon are No.6 options if the Walker experiment fails.
Manly’s forwards bear nearly no resemblance to the pack they used in 2015. The side now has the more creative dummy-half rotation in the Koroisau-Parcell double-act, with Ballin now at Wests Tigers, while new recruits Nate Myles, Lewis Brown and Martin Tapau bring some much-needed grunt in attack and defence, as well as some quality ball-playing forwards who can cover both the backrow and front-row roles. Boom prop Jake Trbojevic, the club’s Player of the Year in 2015, will go to another level with those types around him.
Brett Stewart: Even at 31 years of age, Stewart still moves quite spritely and still knows how to score a try. With Josh Dugan looking to be a centre in 2016, Stewart may very well be eyeing off a return to the State of Origin arena. The 2015 seasson saw him back to his tryscoring best, crossing for 16 tries, the most since his 2008 tally of 22. With DCE working both sides of the field, Stewart could well be hanging around him constantly and scoring plenty of meat pies in the process.
Nate Myles: The Queensland Origin star will add some urgently required starch and leadership to a revamped Manly pack. His ability to play anywhere in the forwards is a huge asset for Manly considering the new interchange rule changes. Myles is going to form a strong combination with DCE.
Under the pump
Daly Cherry-Evans: After a season full of distractions and disappointments, DCE will be looking to focus on playing good footy and winning games. He will have a bigger workload in 2016, but he is more than capable of handling it. The dumped Queensland Origin star will need a big effort for the whole season from his forwards if he is to make his new roving role a success.
Tom Symonds: The talented backrower is now among some quality players in Taupau, Brown, Mateo and Myles. He has shown for a few seasons now that he is definitely deserving of a place in the run-on side, but if his form wavers, he could find himself fighting to stay in the side.
Martin Taupau: The beastly power of Taupau is going to be devastating wide of the ruck, running off DCE and Jamie Lyon. His big fend and offload makes this hard-running powerhouse even harder to keep under wraps. Look for Dylan Walker to be sniffing around looking for a Taupau offload.
Apisai Koroisau and Matt Parcell: The clever No.9 brings a new dimension to the Manly style of play of previous seasons. With only one ball-playing half, the signature of Koroisau was a masterful stroke by Manly, as he can play first receiver, while also being an effective dummy half runner, all of which will help to relieve some pressure off DCE. Meanwhile, ex-Bronco Parcell – who scored a ridiculous five tries in a Queensland Cup semi last year – is a livewire with stunning pace off the mark.
Lack of combinations early in the season. With so many new players coming in – and a new coach in Barrett – it will take some time for the revamped line-up to click.
2015 Stats Leaders
Tries: Brett Stewart – 16
Try Assists: Daly Cherry-Evans – 18
Line-breaks: Jorge Taufua – 14
Tackle-breaks: Jorge Taufua – 54
Average metres: Jorge Taufua – 136.2
Average tackles: Matt Ballin – 40.1
Jamie Lyon will again retain the goalkicking duties. He can run hot and cold off the tee at times, but generally is quite reliable. Feleti Mateo has kicked 7 from 9 goals in his career (5 from 5 attempts last year), while Steve Matai is also available. However, the hit-man’s his record isn’t quite as flattering, with 21 career goals from 36 attempts.
Trent Barrett takes over the reins at Manly after club legend Geoff Toovey was given the boot after four seasons. Barrett has coached the Country side since 2014 and has worked as an NRL assistant, most recently at Penrith. He is untested and so will be under a lot of pressure from a club that expects success.
The mecurial Jamie Lyon will again be captain, after first receiving the job back in 2010 in tandem with Jason King. He’s a born leader and a class act.
Daly Cherry-Evans was the only Manly play to feature in Origin last year, however in 2016, Nate Myles will be lining up alongside DCE for the Maroons, while Dylan Walker, Brett Stewart and even the Trbojevic brothers could find themselves in the Blues squad.
Manly will play arguably the two weakest sides of 2016, Gold Coast and Wests Tigers, only once throughout the year. They will play just once against powerhouse sides Sydney Roosters, Brisbane and Melbourne. The run home is an awkward one for Manly, who will travel to play North Queensland, Warriors (played in Perth), Souths, Parramatta, Canterbury and Penrith, while hosting Melbourne in Round 24.
Round 1 against the Bulldogs: Manly has a very tough start to the season and a tricky run home, so they need to get plenty of early wins, which are going to have to come against quality title contenders. After their first clash they play: Tigers (A), Cronulla (H), Sydney (A), Souths (H), Warriors (A), Parramatta (H), Newcastle (A) North Queensland (H), Broncos (H) and Cronulla (A) before the first bye. They need to hit the ground running as they will not get much chance to play themselves into form.
Best line-up1.Brett Stewart, 2. Jorge Taufua, 3. Jamie Lyon, 4. Steve Matai, 5. Tom Trbojevic, 6. Dylan Walker, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans, 8.Jake Trbojevic, 9. Apisai Koroisau, 10. Nate Myles, 11. Tom Symonds, 12. Lewis Brown, 13. Martin Taupau. Int: 14. Matt Parcell, 15. Darcy Lussick, 16. Luke Burgess, 17. Feleti Mateo.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**