2018 Review: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

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The second of our NRL club season reviews takes a look at the struggles of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles across the year. Check out how Sam Bourke saw their 2018 campaign.

Ask any Manly supporter what they are most proud of and it is usually three things; their 40 nil thrashing of the Storm in the 2008 Grand Final, Cliff Lyons and that they have never collected a wooden spoon. The latter was very nearly busted in 2018, as the Sea Eagles plunged from finals football in 2017 to finish just one win from last place on the NRL ladder.

It was a horror year on the northern beaches, with poor results on the field actually overshadowed by multiple incidents off it. It all started with a salary cap breach pre-season, followed by a bizarre incident on an away trip in Gladstone, which saw utility Jackson Hastings segregated from the playing group and then controversially moved on mid-season.  This unsavory incident then lead to player unrest, through to issues at board level culminating in rookie coach Trent Barrett handing in his resignation in July but bizarrely still seeing out the season.

The heartbreak started in Round 1 with a Golden Point loss to the rejuvenated Knights, this was then followed by a promising 54-0 thrashing of Parramatta leaving fans optimistic about their golden boy Daly Cherry-Evans taking the keys to the side following the loss of the reliable Blake Green following his off-season move to the Warriors.  Trent Barrett's side continued to yo-yo from gritty wins to terrible losses early on, highlighted by the troubled 32-20 defeat by the Titans in Round 5 in Gladstone. After that incident kept them in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, they were then hammered by the Tigers and even the Eels turned the tables in Round 7 with a 44-10 drubbing.

Following some outstanding form from the Trbojevic brothers and Cherry-Evans heading into the Origin period, Manly suddenly peaked with terrific wins over the Broncos in Brisbane and then the Storm in Melbourne to give their season a huge boost mid-season. However, their season then took a devastating nose dive losing seven of their next eight, before jagging back to back wins over bitter rivals Cronulla and Canterbury before just managing to hold off Parramatta in the last round to avoid a dreaded first Wooden Spoon for the club.

Turning Point

Where to start? Salary caps breaches, the coach's resignation, not to mention just 4 wins from their first 15 matches. To pin point where it all went horribly wrong for the Sea Eagles in 2018, it has to be the now infamous Gladstone post strip club punch up between skipper Daly Cherry-Evans and obvious five-eighth replacement Jackson Hastings following the sides' loss to the Gold Coast Titans in Round 5. The press ate it up, it was terribly handled by management, Jackson Hastings was made a scapegoat and it became such an embarrassing mess that by the time the club got out of its shadow their season was gone.

What Worked

The form of star half Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers in Jake and Tom were what made the side a threat every single week on paper in 2018. Quite simply when the Manly pack got on the front foot and got over the advantage line through Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake, their three stars delivered putting poor sides and quality side's like the Broncos in Round 10 to the sword. In promising signs moving forward, both the Trbojevic's were instrumental in New South Wales' historic State of Origin series win and Cherry-Evans was outstanding for Queensland when called upon in Game III. All three were rewarded by being selected for Australia in the post season and it is absurd that with arguably three of the best current representative players in the game that the Sea Eagles still struggled to avoid finishing in the cellar.

What Didn't Work

While their roster boasts four top line internationals including front rower Martin Taupau who also gives his all each week, the Sea Eagles depth is extremely poor. Injuries played a big part in 2018 for the Eagles, with Api Koroisau, Curtis Sironen, Akuila Uate, Jorge Taufua and Dylan Walker spending time on the sidelines and when they did, the depth to cover these injuries just wasn't there. Despite their recent salary cap penalties, there is a real threat that the roster in far too top heavy with first class players which is having a severe influence on depth in key positions. An example of where they were let down in 2018 was the loss of Blake Green at five-eighth. Lachlan Croker started the season with some decent performances but when the luckless young playmaker went down with an ACL, the Eagles didn't pick Jackson Hastings and were out of answers, trying multiple players in the #6 and pretty much for the backend of 2018 resorted to just relying on the Trbojevic brothers to cover the key position.

Best Players 

Jake Trbojevic had another outstanding season, again going to the next level at NRL and representative level. Trbojevic gives 100% every week and is one of the most consistent players in the competition, and if he does have a bad game it is usually because he is trying too hard to get his team over the line. Trbojevic led by example each week, averaging 13 hit ups and over 40 tackles per game and was rightly awarded the club's best and fairest. The Australian and NSW backrower is without doubt the heart soul of the side moving forward.

Tom Trbojevic was again a bright shining light for the Sea Eagles, with the NSW and Australian back topping the try-scoring list for the club with a modest 9 tries but also 9 try assists and is without doubt the focal point of the Manly attack. It was another big year for the 22 year old, who was prominent on the highlight reel in the club's seven season wins, going on to making his representative debut and locking down his position in the State of Origin and International arena moving forward.

Rookies

The Sea Eagles future looked bright at the start of the season, with the club's under 20's winning the final season of the Holden Cup. Following this achievement, the club did unearth some quality rookies led by hooker Manase Fainu who was thrown in the deep end at the backend of the season, when the experienced Api Koroisau went down with a leg injury. Fainu was impressive making 9 appearances in the top grade in his first year. Taniela Paseka was another standout making 12 appearances from the interchange and was even trusted to start in place of Martin Taupau against the Panthers late in the season.

Feeder club round-up

The Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles - in just their second season in the NSWRL Intrust Super Premiership - finished agonisingly close to playing finals football but could not defeat minor premiers Penrith in their final regular season game to break into the Top 8. The loss of key player Jackson Hastings, who made a much publicised switch to Salford in the UK Super League mid-season, proved too much of an loss for the side to recover from and they never really threatened the top sides.

Similarly, Manly's U20 Jersey Flegg Cup outfit finished one spot outside the top eight, unable to defend their national Holden Cup premiership from the previous season.

Looking Ahead

The biggest jigsaw at the Sea Eagles in the off season is who will be their coach in 2019, with the club rumoured to be burying the hatchet with former Premiership winning coach Des Hasler in an attempt to return the club to the glory days that fans desperately crave. With Hasler proven to be a master of the backs against the wall, ‘flying under the radar' mentality that the club have always been known for, this could prove to be a gamble that the club needs to take.

Manly's biggest regret in 2018 may have been letting go of the underrated Blake Green, and the issue of a halves partner for Daly Cherry-Evans continues to be an issue. The club have however looked to have identified this and have marked the Gold Coast's Kane Elgey as their main man to fill the void, with the former Holden Cup Player of the Year signing on for the next two seasons. While the Sea Eagles have the quality of the Trbojevic brothers, Cherry-Evans, Taupau, Koroisau and Dylan Walker on the field they will worry any side in the NRL. However, should they suffer a similar run of injuries to 2018 there are serious doubts as to whether they have the cattle in reserve to mount a serious challenge in 2019. 

Potential 2019 lineup

(based on current confirmed signings)

1 Tom Trbojevic
2 Jorge Taufua
3 Brian Kelly
4 Dylan Walker
5 Moses Suli
6 Kane Elgey
7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c)
8 Addin Fonua-Blake
9 Apisau Koroisau
10 Martin Taupau
11 Joel Thompson
12 Curtis Sironen
13 Jake Trbojevic

14 Lloyd Perrett
15 Frank Winterstein
16 Taniela Paseka
17 Trent Hodkinson

2018 Results

1
Newcastle Knights 19
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18
L
2
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 54
Parramatta Eels 0
W
3
South Sydney Rabbitohs 34
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6
L
4
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 32
Canberra Raiders 16
W
5
Gold Coast Titans 32
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
L
6
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12
Wests Tigers 38
L
7
Parramatta Eels 44
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 10
L
8
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12
Newcastle Knights 18
L
9
Sydney Roosters 22
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
L
10
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 38
Brisbane Broncos 24
W
11
Melbourne Storm 4
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24
W
12
Canberra Raiders 21
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
L
13
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12
North Queensland Cowboys 26
L
14
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 14
Warriors 34
L
15
St George Illawarra Dragons 32
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 8
L
16
Penrith Panthers 10
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18
W
17
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 0
BYE
18
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 13
Melbourne Storm 14
L
19
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24
Sydney Roosters 56
L
20
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24
Penrith Panthers 28
L
21
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 32
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 33
W
22
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6
W
23
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 34
Gold Coast Titans 42
L
24
Wests Tigers 22
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
L
25
Brisbane Broncos 48
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16
L

By the Stats

16
Competition Points
7
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
17
Matches Lost
500
Points Scored
622
Points Conceded