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Once silvertails of the NRL, the Manly Sea Eagles continued their long re-building phase in 2004 as they aim to regain the respect of their glory days.
Improvements on the field were modest but the biggest strides forward were made off the field. Manly secured their financial future in early June, when football club members agreed to privatise. The move resulted in an additional 4.4 million shares being available to members, supporters and investors. A week later the club recruited star Knights forward Ben Kennedy, and two weeks after that the fast improving Dragons prop Brent Kite.
A new look Manly outfit began 2004 confident of challenging for the eight, despite being a popular pick to challenge Souths for the wooden spoon. A good start to the campaign was critical and things looked up for Des Hasler?s men after a 24-20 upset win in Townsville. Despite having a new coach and a vastly different playing roster, the quality had not greatly increased, and the bad habits of 2003 had not been solved. Manly lost their next six matches, despite being competitive in most of them.
Their inability to stop a flow of points from an opposition on a roll and their tendency to give up big leads with their slow starts were trends that haunted them for much of the season, and cost them any chance of making the eight.
Manly had some good victories in 2004, but too often they were followed by a poor performance. A perfect example of this trend was their 20-12 win over 2003 Premiers Penrith in Round 13. The next week they were hammered by 40 points by a struggling Parramatta outfit.
They also endured their fair share of player controversies. John Hopoate was suspended for nine matches after being found guilty of making threatening and derogatory remarks to a match official during the Round 14 loss to Parramatta. The club hasn?t even escaped bad news during the finals period, with Andrew Walker?s career finished due to a well publicised cocaine incident.
Sea Eagles fans were pleased with the way the team finished the season at Brookvale. They won their last 4 home games, playing some very good attacking football and newly appointed captain Michael Monaghan really showed improvement as a quality first grade halfback. Another highlight was Steve Menzies breaking the record for most tries in premiership history by a forward.
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR: Young fullback Brett Stewart wasn?t eligible for the rookie of the year award because he started a first grade match in 2003, but he is right up there with the best young talents in the NRL. Stewart has pace to burn, good support play and scored 14 tries in his first full season in the top grade.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: Manly are an unpredictable team, capable of being great one week and abysmal the next, as the wallopings received at Parramatta and Penrith prove. Once again in 2004 Manly conceded over 30 points a game, and until they tighten up their defence, they?ll struggle to improve. The signings of Kennedy and Kite are positives, as long as the injury prone Kennedy doesn?t spend too much time on the sidelines. I think that the Sea Eagles could finish closer to the eight in 2005 but a lot more consistency is needed.
Match Records 2004 ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium WIN 24-20 2 Sydney Roosters Brookvale Oval LOSS 20-42 3 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park LOSS 20-28 4 New Zealand Warriors Brookvale Oval LOSS 10-28 5 Bulldogs Telstra Stadium LOSS 26-28 6 Parramatta Eels Brookvale Oval LOSS 26-32 7 Wests Tigers Leichhardt Oval LOSS 22-30 8 BYE 9 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Brookvale Oval WIN 21-10 10 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium WIN 42-20 11 Cronulla Sharks Brookvale Oval LOSS 28-30 12 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 22-48 13 Penrith Panthers Brookvale Oval WIN 20-12 14 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium LOSS 12-52 15 South Sydney Rabbitohs Brookvale Oval LOSS 30-34 16 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 12-56 17 Bulldogs Brookvale Oval LOSS 32-50 18 Wests Tigers Brookvale Oval WIN 26-18 19 BYE
20 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium LOSS 12-26 21 Canberra Raiders Brookvale Oval WIN 36-22 22 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 12-72 23 Newcastle Knights Brookvale Oval WIN 48-10 24 South Sydney Rabbitohs North Sydney Oval WIN 50-22 25 St.George-Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium LOSS 34-36 26 Melbourne Storm Brookvale Oval WIN 30-28
9 WINS, 15 LOSSES. FOR: 615 AGAINST: 754 POSITION: 13TH
Manly Sea Eagles - 2005 Player Movement
Gains: Ashley Alberts (Broncos\\Clydesdales) 2yrs, Brent Kite (Dragons) 4yrs, Ben Kennedy (Knights) (2yrs), Adam Luchetti (Wests Wollongong), Matthew Hurst (Wagga Wagga, 3yrs), Matt Ballin (Brisbane).
Losses: Kevin McGunniess (Salford, UK, Mid-season), Ian Donnelly (Storm, 2yrs), Dallas Reenie (Released), Mitch Creary (Back to Union), Jarrod Heaney (rugby union), Nathan Hollingsworth (Released), Craig Hayne (Released), Albert Torrens (Dragons)
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist