Nicolson Sports Consultancy NRL
Preview- Manly Warringah Sea Eagles


COACH Des Hasler

CAPTAIN Steven Menzies

BACKS Ever since the doom-ridden North Sydney/Manly merger came together in 2000, the club has suffered from a shortage of quality outside backs. Fast forward to 2004 and the current Manly-run club has the same problem. It starts at halfback, when after Jason Taylor got the boot in 2000, the Sea Eagles number seven jersey has been filled by the likes of Matt Orford, Brett Kimmorley, Jason Ferris, Ben Walker and Luke Dorn. Now it is Michael Monaghan?s turn, signed from the Raiders to lead the Des Hasler-era at the club. Unfortunately, Monaghans outside men still lack the class of the top sides. Andrew Walker returns from Rugby Union to fill the fullback role, but should have a roving commission as Manly?s second playmaking option outside Monaghan. Scott Donald impressed greatly in his first season with the club netting 21 tries thanks mainly to his blinding speed. Albert Torrens and Kevin McGuinness should have first crack at the centre positions but with Hasler indicating Steven Menzies will switch to the centres once he breaks a forward tryscoring record they are hardly assured of staying there. Chris Hicks is a chance at a wing spot but only if John Hopoate is moved to the forwards. Given Hopoate?s work-rate from the wing without having to defend, Manly would be better served keeping him on the flank. Mark Lennon has returned to Australia following a sting in the UK to challenge for the five-eighth spot, but utility Luke Williamson has experience there and has the edge. Depth is limited with only Mitch Creary and Jye Mullane with significant NRL experience.

FORWARDS Manly?s strength without doubt is in the pack. Even if Menzies moves to centre, the Sea Eagles have good depth in every position. New signings Daniel Heckenberg, Ian Donnelly, Kylie Leuluai and Kane Cleal will vie for the vacancy next to hooker Chad Randall and incumbent prop Jason King in the front row. Heckenberg?s consistency last year with Parramatta strengthened his claims. While Donnelly and Leuluai could see time off the bench, Cleal will get much needed seasoning in Premier League. Holdovers Sam Harris, Solomon Haumono and Anthony Watmough are the key to the attacking potency of the Manly pack and should compete for the two second row spots. Shayne Dunely and Nathan Hollingsworth were signed to backup Randall at hooker, but Randall is a durable player with impressive attacking skill meaning there will not be great opportunities for either. Two journeymen forwards Nick Paterson and Nathan Tutt also joined the squad in the off-season.

KEY PLAYER WALKER ? Potential is a common word that has followed Andrew Walker around his entire footballing career. He is extremely gifted in attack and Manly certainly staged a coup when they signed him from the ACT Brumbies. However, he is entering his 31st year and that means the buzzword now will be ?age?. He certainly doesn?t seem that old (in footballing terms) and has signed a multi-year deal with the Sea Eagles. Can turn a game with his running ability and will be used at fullback to maximize that value on kick returns.

ONE TO WATCH HARRIS? 2003 was a learning year for the former NSW Waratah centre, and his return to the forwards in the NRL is good news for Manly fans. If Menzies does indeed move wider, then Harris will have a greater range in attack making him very dangerous on the fringes of the ruck. Rugby inside centres are noted for their line running and Harris is poised to make Michael Monaghan?s short passes look very good. He could enter representative calculations for City Origin if he kicks off the season strongly. BIGGEST ADVANTAGE Player Turnover ? Manly have brought in a host of new faces to lead the 2004 campaign, most on the recommendation of noted scout Noel Cleal. Walker and Monaghan are the biggest additions and add an element of creativity to the rather impotent offence of last year. Des Hasler has also seen his pack deepened considerably but knows his side is nowhere near the talent level of the top clubs. But in order to build up you need a strong foundation, and Hasler has the workings of a competitive unit entering the season.

BIGGEST DISADVANTAGE Player Turnover since 2001- It is scary to think that since the merger of the great Manly and North Sydney clubs, both sides were brimming with high end talent. Names like Adam Muir, Mark O?Meley, Daniel Gartner, Jason Taylor, Michael Buettner, Matt Orford, Paul Stringer, Geoff Toovey, Brett Kimmorley have worn the ?Eagles? crest since 2000 and the list could go on of the talent that the Northern Eagles franchise floundered with. Simply put this side is a shadow of the team that should have been put together by now. Plus the wounds that still exist after the merger fell apart, hardly leave a good memory of the history of the Northern Eagles team. The players know this is a relatively new club but the ghosts of the Eagles still float around Brookvale and the cemetery in Gosford.

BOTTOM LINE It is hard to see the Sea Eagles challenging for a finals birth this season. Despite the player turnover, they still lack the star power to expect to win enough games to qualify for the Top 8. Des Hasler faces a tough year, perhaps even tougher than his predecessor Peter Sharp, because the recruitment efforts of the club have been superior than in the past few years. Hard work allows a team to compete, but quality and class allows it to win, entering 2004, Manly will achieve the former but the latter is beyond them.

2004 STRONGEST LINEUP 1. A Walker 2. S Donald 3. K McGuinness 4. A Torrens 5. J Hopoate 6. L Williamson 7. M Monaghan 8. J King 9. C Randall 10. D Heckenberg 11. S Haumono 12. S Harris 13. S Menzies ? Bench 14. S Dunley 15. A Watmough 16. I Donnelly 17. M Lennon

Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 [email protected]