Minor upheaval can be difficult to deal with at the best of times but major upheaval across the playing staff and the coaching staff, is enough to put pressure on even the staunchest of characters. That is the major challenge facing Manly in 2016, as well as new coach Trent Barrett. Does have what it takes to be a coach in the NRL and can he get the best out of the players, in what is a relatively new team in many respects? And with a host of new players comes new challenges. Just how long will it take those players to gel and will they fit in with the Manly system? And interestingly, with the departure of Kieran Foran, just how will half Daly Cherry-Evans cope as the primary play-maker. Will he thrive and relish in the role or will it be slow going?
There might be many new elements surrounding the Manly club in 2016 but as recent history as shown, despite any turmoil they may be going through, they are a team that you can never count out. When the cards are on the table, they somehow always find a way to come out with the best hand, even when it looks like they are set to lose.
That was the resiliency factor, present under former coaches Des Hasler and Geoff Toovey and with new coach Trent Barrett now at the helm, whether that factor still remains strong throughout the season remains to be seen. Still relatively new to the coaching scene, Barrett has taken on his first full-time head coaching role, in what will challenge him in ways he has not been challenged before. Although he is not new to the first-grade landscape as a coach, having been an assistant at the Penrith Panthers and the Country NSW coach for some years now, a head coach role always brings added elements. There was some surprise when he was picked as the man for the role and many will ask, is he the right man for the job and can he lead the team to glory?
Perhaps one player with the most weight on their shoulders for Manly in 2016 is halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. With the departure of Kieran Foran, he no longer has his right-hand man in the halves, a player that complemented his game in every sense. The duo were fluid in attack for Manly over the years and worked well together. With uncertainty still surrounding the exact make-up of the Manly halves, Cherry-Evans will have added responsibility to take charge and be the chief play-maker, and essentially guide whoever is named in the halves with him. Some players embrace that added responsibility and perform, whilst for others, doing so takes longer. A talented player in his own right, it will present a different kind of challenge for Cherry-Evans, as the new half will have to adapt, perform and make the most of the opportunities.
There was change galore at Manly over the off-season. A host of players left and a host of players came into the side, creating healthy competition for spots and uncertainty over the specific make-up of the team. With the signings of some players pleasing the Manly fans more than others, they will have a squad that is good enough to continue to challenge the very best teams in the NRL. Should they get off to a good start, they will once again be considered as one of those top teams. But with player turnover of this nature, also brings many challenges. Just how long will it take the players to gel as a team and to understand each other’s games? How long can they afford to wait before all the new players hit their straps? Rugby league is a tough business and if the whole team is not ready and able to perform at a high level, it can prove costly. So whilst Manly have arguably, one of the best sides on paper in light of their new recruits, to get the best out of themselves and out of the team on a regular and consistent basis will not be an easy feat by any means.
As previously mentioned, it seems that no matter what is happening with the Manly club, they always find a way to place themselves among the top teams when it matters most. Their new players will be coming into the season fresh, eager and determined to make an impact, particularly with some added depth waiting in the wings, seeking to make the most of an opportunity. A talented side all-round, there are plenty of leaders and promising players among the team to provide a solid, healthy balance and if new coach Trent Barrett and his coaching staff can somehow get the best out of the team as a whole, the Sea Eagles will once again be a formidable force in the NRL.
Best Buy: Matt Parcell: Regarded as one of the best young hookers currently in the NRL, he may not have received first-grade opportunity yet but you can bet he will soon. A true live-wire and a nifty little player, it is his surprising speed as a hooker that has everyone talking. Coming off a solid tournament for Manly at the Nines, his skills, abilities and speed were on display, further enhancing his chances of a first-grade berth. Although it remains unclear if Manly will run with the sole hooker or one off the bench, he faces stiff competition from Apisai Koroisau, who he is likely to share minutes with should the duo both be named in the squad. Regardless of that, he is a player that is expected to make an impact in 2016 and when he is selected, he will take every opportunity to prove his worth.
Most Promising Talent: Jesse Ramien: Regarded as one of the next big products out of the Manly system, Ramien is a young product that has Manly fans excited and raving about. One of the best performers in recent years wherever he has played – alongside Tom Trbojevic who has played plenty of NRL already – he is a player that many Manly fans predict can take the next step into first-grade. Big, powerful, yet very mobile, the winger’s skills will be on display throughout the Holden Cup in 2016 and potentially in the NSW Cup. With a relative low amount of depth in the back-line, he could be a surprise selection with a few injuries and a player of his skill and ability, is likely to relish that challenge. As the next crop of youngsters come along and make themselves known to the rugby league world, Ramien is one that has the world at his feet, and is one that many fans – not just Manly fans – are expecting to take the next step and cement a spot in first-grade in a few years time.
2016 Gains: Lewis Brown (Penrith Panthers, 2018), Fabian Goodall (Parramatta Eels, 2016), Nathan Green (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2016), Isaac John (Penrith Panthers, 2016), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers, 2018), Halauafu Lavaka (Parramatta Eels, 2016), Darcy Lussick (Parramatta Eels, 2018), Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers, 2016), Nate Myles (Gold Coast Titans, 2018), Matt Parcell (Brisbane Broncos, 2018), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers, 2019), Dylan Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019), John Walker (2017), Tom Wright (2018)
Our strongest predicted line-up:
1. Brett Stewart
2. Jorge Taufua
3. Jamie Lyon (C)
4. Steve Matai
5. Tom Trbojevic
6. Dylan Walker
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Jake Trbojevic
9. Apisai Koroisau
10. Nate Myles
11. Lewis Brown
12. Jamie Buhrer
13. Feleti Mateo
14. Matt Parcell
15. Martin Taupau
16. Tom Symonds
17. Brenton Lawrence
Coach: Trent Barrett.