Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 11: Manly Sea Eagles

Two previews in one day as established and here is the second one – it’s on the Manly Sea Eagles. Regarded as an ageing squad, are the veterans primed for a big season or will it take its toll on their bodies and test Manly’s depth? Will the lack of depth hurt Manly moving forward and are their youngsters and new recruits ready to step up if given a chance?

GAINS: Tyson Andrews (2015) Delroy Berryman (2015) Cheyse Blair (Parramatta Eels) Josh Starling (South Sydney Rabbitohs) Dunamis Lui (Brisbane Broncos) Jayden Hodges (North Queensland Cowboys) Jack Littlejohn (Canterbury Bulldogs) Tyson Andrews (Mackay Cutters) Mark O’Dare (Gold Coast Titans) Manaia Rudolph (Wests Tigers).

If any side is full of veterans what is deemed an ageing squad by many, it’s the Manly Sea Eagles. A claim that coach Geoff Toovey has rejected but one that is evident by the age of some players in their squad, how their bodies hold up and how well they perform over the course of the season will be a point that many fans and NRL lovers will keep an eye on. On the flip side, veterans bring vital experience and with players like Glenn Stewart, Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough, they are the players that will help aid and guide the up-and-coming players.

Manly have long been able to find talented players from lower grades and thus turning them into stellar stars – like Daly Cherry-Evans – and their recruitment again suggests that they are keen to unearth the next potential star and hope that one of them can make the step-up required to turn into a consistent, talented NRL player.
Perhaps one such player that can have that effect is a recruit of theirs from Souths and that is Josh Starling.

Starling comes with a lot of promise and may well feature come Rd 1, considering that Manly’s prop depth is quite lacking. A talented player who has been given some opportunity in first-grade, the young prop will be looking to make the most of what may come his way and what may work in his favour to get a position in first-grade early on, is that when it comes to Manly’s props deemed as depth, he has a fair bit of first-grade experience under his belt. With a chance to impress, work hard and earn that spot, Starling will be a young prop forward for the club to keep their eye on and track his development as a player and a person.

In regards to the leadership group at Manly, one player that probably does need to step up throughout the season is back-rower, Glenn Stewart. The veteran had a bit of a turbulent season in 2013, as he returned from injury and failed to find his mojo upon his return. He progressively got better as the season went on but he looms as a crucial part of the Manly cog moving forward, given his understanding of not only the Manly system, but also of the combination/s with his brother in the middle of the ruck. As most fans are aware, the two are a dangerous duo if given time and space when moving forward in attack. With the likelihood that he may not be at Manly in 2015 due to salary cap restraints, now is the time for Stewart to show what he can do and improve on his 2013 season, as to ensuring that other clubs take notice of him and thus he plays elsewhere in 2015. On sheer ability, if Stewart can get back to his form from a few years back, he will be in the echelon of elite ball-playing locks.

What does work in Manly’s favour, though, is that they boast one of the best spines in the competition. That is, one of the best combination of players across fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker. At fullback is the enigmatic, fan favourite Brett Stewart. Whilst he may have lost a yard of pace from his earlier days, he is still a destructive player and has the potential to change a game. His link-up play as previously mentioned and hole-running – knowing when to exploit gaps – is what puts him in the elite fullback category.
When it comes to Kieran Foran, he may not be the flashiest five-eighth nor the most well-known, but the Kiwi has shone for Manly in years’ past and will once again be a crucial part of their side. With a mix of creativity and awareness in his game, Foran is able to read the play and is just about one of Manly’s best players each week.
Not much has to be said about Daly Cherry-Evans that is not already known. Already billed as the replacement for Cooper Cronk in both the QLD and Australian sides, Manly’s recent successes have been in large, due to the efforts of the man referred to as DCE. A talented player in every sense, there are very few flaws in his game and you would be a brave man to predict that he is not an elite halfback.
Finally is the man who perhaps receives fewer plaudits and kudos than the other three and that is hooker, Matt Ballin. Sporting the headgear that has made him a fan favourite – also due to his playing ability – Ballin is the man that gets the ball rolling for Manly. With swift movement and passing out of dummy half, a touch of creativity and a general play awareness that allows him to choose the right plays, Ballin is the guy that starts everything for Manly and is just as crucial to their system and their chances in 2014, than any of the other players in the club’s spine.

Although they are usually quite sound defensively, there are certain Manly players that will seek drastic improvement when it comes to defence. With both Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough missing 55 and 48 tackles respectively – quite high in terms of missed tackles for forwards – and both Steve Matai and Jamie Lyon also missing 55 and 50 tackles respectively, the need to improve on that and iron out the chinks in their defence is crucial. Although some missed tackles are often unavoidable, the subtle changes make the biggest difference and with a side like Manly, you can almost anticipate that they will improve in just about every facet of their game in 2014 and moving forward.

Overall, Manly will again feature in the finals – with the side they have, how could they not? – the only question is, whereabouts? Can they again crack the top 4 or will the lack of prop depth and overall depth perhaps hurt them down the stretch if there is a string of injuries. Time will tell but they are a potent side and a dangerous side.

Player To Watch: Jake Trbojevic. Power, acceleration, offloading ability and sheer determination. Those are just some traits to describe Trbojevic and his style of play – one that has seen him not only receive huge plaudits as a young player, but one that has him regarded as one of the most exciting prop forwards in the NRL system. A chance to play first-grade at some point in 2014 given the lack of overall prop depth, the youngster made the most of the one opportunity he received in 2013 and gave coach Geoff Toovey something to think about. He is the sort of player that knows what hard work is, knows what is role within a team is and he goes out and does it with aplomb. Trbojevic is in the elite group of upcoming NRL props and some years down the track, the idea of his playing in Origin and even higher accolades is something that is a very real possibility. When he plays, he will be ready. You can also expect him to make the most of the opportunity.

Here’s the Manly side I would go with:

1. Brett Stewart
2. David Williams
3. Jamie Lyon (C)
4. Steve Matai
5. Jorge Taufua
6. Kieran Foran
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Brenton Lawrence
9. Matt Ballin
10. Jason King
11. Justin Horo
12. Anthony Watmough
13. Glenn Stewart

14. Tom Symonds
15. Josh Starling
16. Jamie Buhrer
17. James Hasson

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