Try as they might in season 2020, the sustained loss of Tom Trbojevic severely damaged their chances to perform consistently.
With some changes expected and depth lost, the Sea Eagles will have to rely on a bevy of talented youngsters to help the senior players.
Des Hasler loves some adversity but can he produce the goods when the going is seemingly tough for a Manly side with more questions than answers.
Can Tom Trbojevic stay fit?
There is no denying that Manly is a tremendously different side when Tom Trbojevic is at fullback.
A naturally gifted athlete despite his lanky frame, it is the work that Trbojevic does on and off the ball that makes him so important.
He can score a try, produce a try assist, create plays on his own, or set up his teammates for tries and he has proven that on countless occasions.
His very presence on the field takes the pressure off Daly Cherry-Evans to produce and gives Manly a second genuine attacking threat.
Unfortunately, more recently, his injury history has been concerning, particularly his hamstrings.
Hamstring injuries are never easy to manage but the recurrence of them is a worrying trend for a Manly side desperate to produce some more consistent form.
If Tommy Turbo stays fit, Manly’s chances skyrocket. If it’s another year like 2020 and he goes in and out of the side due to injury, it may be a long year.
Coping with the loss of Addin Fonua-Blake
There is no denying that 2020 was a career year for Addin Fonua-Blake.
The disappointing part from a Manly perspective, however, is that he is now no longer at the club.
His consistency regardless of the result each week saw his status among Manly fans move higher and higher. His absence now means there is a spot there for someone to step up.
The two likely contenders are Josh Aloiai and Taniela Paseka.
Aloiai, who moved from the Tigers rather unceremoniously, joins on the back of his own good run of form.
With a new club, a new coach, and new teammates, his efforts will have to be equal to that of his 2020 season, even if replacing Fonua-Blake is easier said than done.
The darkhorse for the role perhaps, and someone who has impressed in first-grade, is young gun Taniela Paseka.
Coming a long way from his first game to his most recent, his size and presence on the field are enough to excite Manly fans and know that their prop stocks are bright.
Although the more experienced Aloiai would be favoured to get the starting role, Paseka deputized well when he was given the chance to do so in 2020.
From our perspective, we would actually like to think Paseka is rewarded for how he finished the year at Manly even though the likelihood of that is slim.
How to solve the hooker problem
The stark reality for Manly is that with the release of Danny Levi, they have no specialist hooker.
With hooker being a core component of a club’s spine and arguably the position that requires the most durability, the lack of stocks for Manly poses a genuine problem.
Kieran Foran has been mooted to potentially play there but his injuries are a concern in terms of how durable he would be in the role.
Their emerging superstar in Manase Fainu is still awaiting the finalisation of his ongoing court case and beyond that, there are very few options.
Manly’s options are thus limited; either get a player or two in to curb the gap or rely on an unproven youngster that most may not know of.
Either way, if the position is not filled soon, it will make Manly’s dominance in the ruck near non-existent.
Player to Watch
The rugby league world often talks about naturally gifted players and one of those at Manly is Josh Schuster.
It did not take long for him to showcase his pedigree and talent before injury robbed him of sustained individual success.
Despite the return of Kieran Foran, fans would expect to see Schuster feature heavily in the side’s setup for season 2021.
His work-rate, his smarts and his awareness, all well above the level you would expect for a young half, hold him in great stead moving forward.
The Manly Sea Eagles have a potential future star in their ranks and he will be a player that is likely to turn many heads with his form for years to come.
Manly Sea Eagles Gains and Losses
Manly Sea Eagles 2021 gains: Josh Aloiai (Wests Tigers), Andrew Davey (Parramatta Eels), Sione Finau (2021), Kieran Foran (Canterbury Bulldogs), Tolutau Koula (2022), Jason Saab (St George Illawarra Dragons), Christian Tuipolutu (Sydney Roosters), Alec Tuitavake (2021) and Kaeo Weekes (2021).
Manly Sea Eagles 2021 losses: Brendan Elliott (released), Addin Fonua-Blake (New Zealand Warriors), Danny Levi (released), Luke Metcalf (Cronulla Sharks), Abbas Miski (London Broncos), Sam Smith (released), Joel Thompson (St Helens), Corey Waddell (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Tony Williams (released).
NRL News Predicted Team (at full strength)
- Tom Trbojevic
- Reuben Garrick
- Dylan Walker
- Brad Parker
- Christian Tuipolutu
- Kieran Foran
- Daly Cherry-Evans (C)
- Josh Aloiai
- Manase Fainu
- Martin Taupau
- Curtis Sironen
- Andrew Davey
- Jake Trbojevic
- Taniela Paseka
- Haumole Olakau’atu
- Sean Keppie
- Josh Schuster
Coach: Des Hasler.