Already Part 6 of our previews and this one will be on the Manly Sea Eagles. Arguably the most successful NRL club of the last 10 years, many believe that the Sea Eagles will drop out of the top eight in 2015, despite holding onto most of their front-line players.
Of course, with that in mind, the speculation and innuendo surrounding the futures of both Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran will mean that Manly have to be on their games. Although they have dealt with some distractions in the past, the potential departure of their two play-makers – or at least one of them – could weigh on the players, particularly if it is not dealt with before the season itself starts. If you had to choose, who would you let go? Cherry-Evans or Foran?
Another big talking point out of Manly is the departure of long-term player, Anthony Watmough. Growing dissatisfied with some of the goings-on at the club and voicing his opinion on those issues publicly, filling the void left by his departure will not be an easy one for the club. Watmough, who is still regarded as one of the best forwards in the game, made a move to the arch rivals the Parramatta Eels and left Manly with a gaping hole in their forward, especially when it comes to experience. A battering ram player of sorts, Watmough added some starch to the Manly forward pack and without him, that punch has significantly decreased.
The club have tried to rectify this by signing creative ball-playing lock Feleti Mateo who, on his day, can create endless opportunities and change a game but days like that are few and far between. At least that has been the case at his past teams. If Manly coach Geoff Toovey can get Mateo’s head in the game and get him involved, the Manly system might just be the one that sees Mateo excel once more. With Watmough and Glenn Stewart gone, he has big shoes to fill in that lock role and despite what some fans might think of him, Manly fans will be hoping that that is the case.
Another player who can potentially fill the void left by the departed Watmough and Stewart is back-rower Jamie Buhrer. A quality player in his own right, he has already shown the sort of value he can bring to the team when given opportunities through injuries, suspension or from the bench. Proving that he can perform efficiently and effectively both off the bench and when starting, he will be a handy player to have starting to help bridge the club’s losses. Though in a downside in this regard, Buhrer heads into the start of the season under an injury cloud and so if he is not fit to start the season, the club may be forced to go with someone that has less experience. All in all, when he is fit, Buhrer should be more than capable of filling any void the club might have.
Of equal concern is the injury to Jorge Taufua that will see him miss considerable game-time. That opens up a position on the wing with fans divided as to who should play there. With the two primary candidates being Cheyse Blair and Clinton Gutherson, both have pros and cons, and both could slot into the vacant spot with ease. Gutherson is the favourite in the eyes of many and with natural ability like his and a knack for scoring tries, he would not look out of place. Having performed well at both Holden Cup and NSW Cup level, the fans have been exposed to his exciting play for a few years now, hence their excitement at his potential inclusion.
On the other hand, there’s Cheyse Blair. His performances at the Roosters and Eels were not quite up to the standards fans of those sides would have wanted to see but the move to Manly has him vying for the spot and for his most consistent period of first-grade to date. Performing decently at NSW Cup level, he has worked hard to get his game in order and do what is required of him to nab that potential first-grade spot. Slightly more robust and powerful than Gutherson, Blair is more about the bulldozing style than finesse – like a Gutherson-type – and that can either work in his favour or against him.
Best Buy: Having to improve their forward depth in light of some departures was not easy but signing veteran prop Willie Mason was a good start by Manly. He is the sort of player everyone needs in their team and can offer great leadership for the likes of Josh Starling, Brenton Lawrence and Jake Trbojevic. Unwanted by the Knights at the end of 2014, it was Manly who pounced for Mason. Even at his age, he still offers any side a lot and packs a punch with a hard-running style, a tough approach to footy and a love for the game. His experience will be a handy asset for the Manly side, as they look to maintain some dominance in games with their forward pack.
Most Promising Talent: He may have had a taste of NRL and you can bet that he will get another chance soon, as hulking prop Jake Trbojevic looks to make 2015 his year. A dominant forward in both the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup, Trbojevic is a powerful runner of the ball and makes the most of all his runs. He puts his head down, barges forward and if a team is not careful, he might pop a handy offload off to lead to second phase play. Manly fans have huge wraps on him and his ability and with less forward depth than they may like, they will be hoping that the opportunity for Trbojevic is not too far away. He is the sort of player that will slot right into first-grade and make the most of the things that come is way from the get-go.
2015 Gains: Uiti Baker (Mounties), Luke Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Blake Leary (Northern Pride), Willie Mason (Newcastle Knights), Feleti Mateo (New Zealand Warriors), Siosaia Vave (Cronulla Sharks), Brayden Wiliame & (Newcastle Knights)
Our predicted line-up:
1. Brett Stewart
2. Peta Hiku
3. Jamie Lyon (C)
4. Steve Matai
5. Clinton Gutherson
6. Kieran Foran
7. Daly-Cherry Evans
8. Willie Mason
9. Matt Ballin
10. Brenton Lawrence
11. Jamie Buhrer
12. Justin Horo
13. Feleti Mateo
14. Luke Burgess
15. Josh Starling
16. Dunamis Lui
17. Tom Symonds