14/04/2024
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL

The Sea Eagles turned their season around after starting 0-4. (Photo: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles - Twitter)

For the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, a four-game losing streak to start the season didn't deter the side from reaching the top four via multitude of ways.

After starting the season off on a four-game losing streak, it would’ve been wishful thinking that the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles would make the top eight, let alone sneak their way into the top four at the season’s end. However, the Des Hasler-lead side did just that, skyrocketing up the ladder through a variety of ways.

After finishing the first four rounds with zero wins and four losses, a lack of scoring and heavy defeats brought the mood in Manly down early on in the season.

A combined 32 points in the first month of football – the second-lowest in the league during that period behind the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs -, the Sea Eagles were on the backfoot early.

In the first four games of 2021, for Manly, it was a tale of slow starts, giving up big leads and little scoring.

But all that changed from Round 5 onwards for Manly as they only lost the same amount of games – four – for the remainder of the season, two of those coming against fellow top-four sides Penrith and Melbourne and three of which were two-possession margins.

Below is the story of how the Sea Eagles were able to turn their season around.

A field-goal win in Gosford breaks losing streak

Heading into its Round 5 matchup against the New Zealand Warriors, Manly was on a four-game losing streak to begin the 2021 season.

The Sea Eagles scored first in the 30th minute through a Jason Saab try where he won a 70m footrace and Rueben Garrick’s conversion extended the lead but not even one minute later, New Zealand proved it was up for the challenge too.

A Saab error in the field where he tried to deflect a Jack Murchie pass but couldn’t get the ball away allowed Ken Maumolo to score a try. A Kodi Nikorima conversion brought the scores even yet again, the 6-6 scoreline being taken to halftime.

Coming out of the break, the Warriors continued to feel the momentum. Sean O’Sullivan broke the line, scoring a try and Nikorima again converted inside the first seven minutes of the second half.

The Sea Eagles got the next try as Josh Schuster pounced on a Nikorima error near the touch line to cross and score and a Reuben Garrick conversion levelled the scores at 12-all with less than 20 minutes to play.

The remainder of the game was a tight contest as each team errored, but couldn’t break the deadlock. O’Sullivan attempted a field goal in the 75th minute but missed.

Inside the final minute, Schuster attempted a field goal too for Manly but was unsuccessful, until, mere seconds before full-time, Daly Cherry-Evans produced the winning point via a wonky, spiralling field goal and give his side their first win of the season.

Perhaps, with a feeling of their season on the line even early on at that point in the year, fittingly, it was the Sea Eagles captain would be the one to will the team over the line for their first win.

It was a game that Manly needed to win and have in order to prove the club could step up in in a big way, importantly to instil some relief, and belief that the season could begin to turn around.

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High-scoring = high-soaring

Since Round 5 where Manly averaged 9.4 points across the first five games, over the next 20 weeks, the team averaged 36.9 points, a massive increase to where the club was at and how it was performing in the early parts of the season.

Aside from a 19-18 Daly Cherry-Evans field goal win in Round 23 against Canberra, Manly, in a win, didn’t fall below scoring 28 points as a team. Even so, Manly’s lowest scores for the season after the Round 5 mark were all in losses.

A 0-66 win against the Bulldogs in Round 16 that complimented 50+ scores in the previous fortnight highlighted just how far the Sea Eagles had come. The 66-point margin set a new club record for biggest winning margin, surpassing the record set at 63 points which came from a 70-7 scoreline against Penrith in 1972.

As well, it was the first time in premiership history that the Sea Eagles have scored 50+ points in three successive games and the fourth time the feat had been achieved overall joining the Roosters in 1935, Eels in 2001 and Bulldogs in 2003. The 66-point victory was the second-biggest of the NRL era after Parramatta’s 70-0 triumph against Cronulla in 2003 and the sixth biggest in premiership history.

The Sea Eagles would end the season as the third-highest scoring team of the league with 744 points with the competition’s top-scorer Reuben Garrick contributing 304 points.

The Garrick, Trbojevic and Saab effect

Continuing the trend of high-scoring efforts by the Sea Eagles, the combination of Reuben Garrick, Tom Trbojevic and Jason Saab fronted the attack for the side for a large part of the season’s resurgence.

Firstly speaking on Garrick, he lead the league in scoring during the regular season with 304 points – 84 points coming from 21 tries and 220 points from 110 conversions. He also finished second for goals with 112 – four behind the leader, and fifth for tries with 21. Amongst the scoring, Garrick also lead the league in linebreaks with 36 and finished in the top five for run metres and kick return metres.

Touching on his scoring, in the regular season – where he was usually utilised as a winger – and especially after the first five games of the season, Garrick had 15 games where he scored double-digits, including 30 points against the Bulldogs in Round 16 – a club record.

It would be quite an understatement to say that when Garrick was on, so too were the Sea Eagles. In the nine games where Garrick scored single-digits, in seven of those games the Sea Eagles were on the losing side of the result, highlighting his importance to the team and their winning ways throughout the season.

In the qualifying final against Melbourne, Garrick was below-par recording just four points through two conversions so it’s certainly hoped that from a Manly perspective, he can pick up his regular season form to contribute to the side making more of a run during the post-season.

Another Sea Eagles player who picked up form reminiscent of the team itself, Tom Trbojevic had a career-best year at a club he’s called home for seven years. Injured during the pre-season, Trbojevic’s first game for the season was in Round 6 and he’s turned into perhaps the most in-form player of the competition.

The presence of having him back into the side changed things for the club, the attacking force that is Trobjevic instilled a rebirth to a team determined to turn things around.

He scored a try in all bar two of his 15 games and 25 tries in total which included five games where he put up a hatrick and two games where he collected two tries.

He ended up finishing the season equal-second for tries scored while he had 27 try assists also for a second-placed standing at the conclusion of the season, indicating his passing game also becoming a highlight.

Using a combination of speed and strength, the fullback was routinely able to break a tackle on 105 occasions and break the opposition’s line 30 times – putting him equal-second among the competition.

The next player who’s been an integral part of Manly’s scoring prowess in the backend of the season has been Jason Saab. The youngster, in his third season at this level and his first season with Manly, he appeared in every game in 2021.

Of Manly’s 24 games, Saab scored a try in 14 of them for a total of 23 across the complete home and away season. It included a hatrick of tries against the Warriors in Round 9 and Bulldogs in Round 16 as well.

The winger has blitzed the competition at multiple points throughout the year and has been heavily regarded as one of the league’s quickest player.

It’s this ability to break the game open and get himself and the Sea Eagles into scoring positions more frequently that will contribute to the Sea Eagles chances in the finals, especially after he contributed each of the team’s two tries in the first-week loss to the Storm.

A look ahead

While the Sea Eagles would lose 40-12 to the Storm in the first week of the finals, in the regular season, they were 4-6 against top-eight teams – though 0-4 against top-four teams.

The only team still remaining in the finals series that the Sea Eagles have won against are the Eels, beating them on both occasions on the year – in Round 11 and Round 22.

This weekend, Manly face Sydney – a matchup that hasn’t been seen since Round 1 where Manly fell 46-4 – but the team in maroon and white will hope the ways that have seen the side prevail over other competitors can translate on the big stage against some other big teams and prove why they still belong in the finals.

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