There has been little if any talk of the Manly Sea Eagles during the NRL off-season. Seemingly flying under the media spotlight, as the Bulldogs had their boardroom fights and the Roosters poached their players and the dramatic headlines continued as the Eels dodged bullets in Kings Cross; yet the Eagles were left to quietly lick their Grand Final wounds from 2007 in relative peace.
As struggling clubs and coaches face up to the pressure of the season start; the likes of Matt Elliott and the Panthers ready to try and erase the memory of 2007, or Nathan Brown trying to get his team a premiership in what could be his final year at the helm or maybe Brian Smith and his catastrophe up in Newcastle – still no talk of Manly.
Des Hasler and the boys must be secretly happy about not having to answer too many questions about their build-up or new look side for 2008.
In reality, Manly face more pressure than most as they try to keep their winning ways intact with their Round 1 clash with Cronulla at Brookvale a stern early test. Fortunately for the Sea Eagles it’s a home game and the opposition side in the Sharks have been woeful in their trial form – so it could be the small advantage that the Sea Eagles need to get going.
For Manly, losing the Grand Final by such a heft margin was hard enough – but they then had to watch as prominent players left the club to join the UK Super League. Of most importance is the loss of Michael Monaghan, so often a game breaker for them – but talent in Travis Burns and Chris Hicks will also be sorely missed. Even 3 to 4 player changes can hurt a club and force them to lose their winning cohesion and habit.
We saw something similar at Penrith in the aftermath of their big Grand Final win in 2003. As they started losing only a few players such as Scott Sattler, Joe Galuvao and Paul Whatuira the cracks started to appear. While all strong players, these guys weren’t considered game breakers and many thought the Panthers machine would roll on – however, this proved far from true.
This is the syndrome that the Manly Sea Eagles face and getting a confident early start to the 2008 NRL season is critical to their chances more than other teams.
Jamie Lyon continues to find his feet at pivot and will take time to gel with Matt Orford, the gap between the Super League and the NRL was obvious for Lyon – with the former star struggling to reach the dominance of his early NRL career. The same concerns could possibly be held for David Vaealiki another former Parramatta Eel who joins the Manly Sea Eagles for 2008 after a stint in the UK Super League competition.
Des Hasler has always been a coach keen on fitness and there is no doubt the Sea Eagles will be physically prepared well and will be at premium fitness for this weekends match. But for the Grand Final losers of 2007, it shouldn’t be a cakewalk. The Sharks were underachievers last year and will be desperate for a strong early win and Ricky Stuart will be sure to target Brett Stewart who returns from that severe head knock in the GF and recent knee surgery in the off-season along with new boys David Vaealiki and Michael Bani who are new additions to the Sea Eagles backline.