27/02/2024

Manly is hopeful to return to the finals after missing out this season. (Image: Manly Sea Eagles/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

The Manly Sea Eagles were looking to make it to the big dance after a preliminary final appearance in the 2021 season.

With injuries and chaotic scenes with club management, Manly is in a plateau stage, trying to find any hope to revive the desire for finals.

Questions of team chemistry, player hierarchy and future terms in coaching has the Manly Sea Eagles quickly moving backwards. It’s a far cry from the club that was just one step away from its first appearance on the biggest stage since 2013 last year.

Finishing position: 11th (nine wins, 15 losses)

What worked?

Manly, when healthy is still one of the best teams in the league. When everyone is playing, the Eagles are clicking on all cylinders.

Their tough start with the limitations to their offence led to stretches of wins and losses that tested this team beyond playing style.

Daly Cherry-Evans’ kicking game, especially in kicking 40/20s, is unlike many players in the competition. The Sea Eagles were able to build momentum and field position in unpredictable moments that threw off their opponents, unable to stop their intensity close to the line.

With Kieran Foran’s deception and engagement with defenders shifting defenders in the line, it set up Manly perfectly to score with space in the corner for its wingers.

Backrowers Haumole Olakau’atu and Andrew Davey showcased their balance of playing with space on the inside, carrying the ball, and building their yardage game.

Defeating the Warriors 44-12 at Four Pines Park in Round 13, Olakau’atu kept attacking their poor edge defence. With his size and advantage in the mismatch, Manly was able to build its time in New Zealand’s territory. 

What didn’t?

While understandable, the division in the club post the jersey saga saw Manly struggle even with the best line-up it could put together when everyone wanted to play.

Manly’s defence was poor, and its offence struggled in the back half of the season. From the Roosters matchup in Round 20 to Round 25 against the Bulldogs, the Sea Eagles conceded 209 points (41.8 points per game).

Their edge defence was often aggressive when it shouldn’t have been, letting their opponents slip through their line. This was even seen when they were defending from the halfway line, allowing teams to play in transition and create fast breaks.

On the offensive end this season, they were ninth in scoring, averaging 22.5 points per game, which is a big decline considering how productive they were in the 2021 season. 

When players are out with injuries and suspension, it eliminates options, which happened time after time for the Sea Eagles this season.

Who impressed?

Reuben Garrick stood out for Manly in what was a disappointing season. Going from only playing fullback in stages of season to taking it on full-time, it was a hard ask considering Manly’s finals aspirations, and playing as a winger in rugby league is a whole different ball game.

Showing his versatility and improvement in his ball carrying game and maximising his best footy out the back of Cherry-Evans and Foran passes has put him in a better situation, even with how chaotic Manly has become so quickly. 

In the open field, Garrick was able to beat defenders and score as a support player when Manly broke through the line.

Playing in 21 games this season, Garrick had ran 166 metres per game, scored 162 points, and had 13 line breaks and 11 try assists.

His best game was against the Warriors in Round 13, where he had scored 24 of Manly’s 44 points. This included two tries, as well as 225 running metres, 72 post contact metres and three tackle breaks.

Stepping into the fullback spot is not an easy job, and having to replace Tom Trbojevic just two months into the regular season when he got injured gave Manly stability temporarily.

Now with that experience, Garrick is one of the best all-around wingers in the game who can cover a key spine spot in the current NRL era.

More NRL Season Reviews

NRL 2022 Season Review: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

NRL 2022 Season Review: Gold Coast Titans

NRL 2022 Season Review: Newcastle Knights

Season highlight:

Manly had struggled in the first couple of weeks to start the season. Playing its best month of footy from Round 3 to Round 6, it turned the narrative around that the previous season’s success was a fluke.

This included beating the Bulldogs in close fashion 13-12, then dominating the Knights and Raiders and putting up a battle with the Titans to win 26-18 at home.

Looking like a top eight team, the only thing we needed to see was how the Sea Eagles went against some of the other elite teams in the competition.

Season lowlight:

Manly’s finish to the season was very disappointing and drama heavy before the finals kicked off.

Losing seven in a row put Manly outside of the eight heading into September. Before the streak of losses, the Sea Eagles looked like they were a chance to qualify for an elimination final appearance.

From injuries to Garrick to Jake Trbojevic, Manly had to reshuffle and make even more adjustments to its offence and game plans week in and week out. 

Their loss to the Roosters with their pride jerseys was significant in the lead up to the game, due to players pulling out of playing the game.

The Sea Eagles’ losses to the Titans and Bulldogs were their worst losses in this stretch, allowing the Titans to put 44 points on them in a complete smashing.

Against the Bulldogs, they blew a 16-0 lead to go to golden point, only to lose to a Matt Burton field goal. It was another disaster in an already poor 2022 campaign.

The match-up with the Parramatta Eels without Mitchell Moses started off strongly, attacking Parramatta’s weaknesses with ease. But momentum quickly shifted, and the Eels ran away with box office moments that the Sea Eagles could not compete with.

Top off-season priority 

Manly has to start promoting its juniors and really consider whether the current players are going to contend or if the squad is in a rebuilding period now.

The Sea Eagles have poor cap management and need to make big decisions for their future.

Coach Des Hasler was ultimately sacked, despite Manly being at its best with him. With a quality fullback in Trbojevic, and Cherry-Evans to lead, the incoming coach will still have a strong squad.

Jake Trbojevic should co-captain, as Manly need a vocal leader and someone who shares a lot of passion and puts in 100 per cent effort.

Manly also need to prioritise the health and fitness of Josh Schuster

As the new five-eighth, the more he stays off the field with injury, the more problems Manly is going to have, considering it doesn’t have other options for that position.

If Schuster can develop his game and stay healthy, Manly has a functioning spine that can be fun to watch and compete for a spot in the finals next season.

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