2013 was the year that saw Manly get so close, yet so far. The club will be looking into 2014 with optimism that they can go one step further.
The boys from Brookvale have come a long way since the resignation of former coach Des Hasler at the end of the premiership-winning 2011 season. While most thought Manly would crash and burn, the appointment of Geoff Toovey as coach has only made the side work harder. Fourth-placed finishes in the last two years (including a Grand Final appearance in 2013) have the club aiming even higher in 2014.
The loss of a few key forwards in Brent Kite (Penrith), George Rose (Storm) and Joe Galuvao (retirement) will impact the team's go-forward, and as a result the side will be relying on youth to push them forward throughout the season.
Manly's draw presents some interesting twists and turns. They open the season with three home games (although one will be a road trip up to Gosford against South Sydney), before a grand final rematch against the Roosters in Round 4 at Allianz Stadium. They'll return to Leichhardt Oval for the first time since 2007 when they face Wests Tigers in Round 5. The Sea Eagles will have the luxury of byes before Origin I and II, which will undoubtedly help, as a few players look likely to be selected for their respective states.
Manly's away return clash with Souths takes place in Round 22 at the SCG, with the final game of the regular season on the road in North Queensland.
Their pre-season consisted of a 24-12 loss against Cronulla Sharks and a 1-win, 2-loss performance at the NRL Auckland Nines. It finishes with a trial against Parramatta Eels at Brookvale Oval this Saturday night.
Where They Can Win It
The experience of players such as Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough will help guide the youth of 2014 through the year. If the Manly spine of Stewart, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans and Matt Ballin can stay on the park for most of the year, they will succeed further. Winning as many games at possible at "Fortress Brookvale" will make players dread heading to the Northern Beaches. If they can be consistent at home, it will provide positivity the side can take on the road.
Where They Will Struggle
The loss of key forwards - at least 700 NRL games experience lost - will cause the Eagles to struggle up the middle of the park. The losses of Rose, Kite, Galuvao and the recently forced retirement of Richie Fa'aoso are a significant hit to the club's forward depth. Manly will be looking to their youth to step up, although the return of co-captain Jason King will be an advantage if he can stay fit.
Jamie Lyon – the respsonsibility that comes with the captaincy has relit the fuse for the former representative centre over the last few years. Giving up rep football has given him time to focus on Manly - his leadership motivating the team to combine and provide the results needed. His goalkicking accuracy continues to improve, while Lyon's right-hand-side combination with Glenn Stewart and David Williams can be a Killer for the opposition at times.
Rookie to Watch
Josh Starling – Josh is moving over from South Sydney and is an up-and-coming prop. He was named at NSW Cup Prop of the Year in 2013 and will be one to keep an eye on following the departure of George Rose. His ability to play long minutes will be a great asset for the Eagles throughout the year.
1. Brett Stewart 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Jamie Lyon 4. Steve Matai 5. David Williams 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Jason King 9. Matt Ballin 10. Josh Starling 11. Anthony Watmough 12. Justin Horo 13. Glenn Stewart
Interchange: 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Brenton Lawrence 16. Tom Symonds 17. Michael Chee-Kam