And so, today marks Part 6 of my season previews, this time it’s the Manly Sea Eagles who will be previewed – as they look to go all the way in 2013.

When you look at the Manly side and their past results over the last few years, you presume that it is a mere formality for them to make the finals again in 2013 – as the NRL shows, however, anything is possible, and with significant player turnover from 2012 to this season, how will that affect the Manly side?

The biggest losses for the club, may have come in the form of Tony Williams, Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison. For Williams, whilst he was inconsistent for Manly last year, he has a rare ability that few back-rowers in the NRL have – that is to bulldoze over defenders with ease, as well as a great awareness overall to be able to know when to hit a hole and when to support a half on the fringes.
Looking through their side as a result of that, one has to wonder if there’s any back-rower of a similar ilk at the club that can emulate that sort of run for the Sea Eagles, as well as just how much they will miss Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams, at least the times he was in ominous form.

Two mainstays for the most part of the 2012 season in Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison both departed to go the Eels, with the bigger loss in my view, that of Lussick.
Able to play in the back-row or front-row, coming off the bench, Lussick was perhaps the club’s most consistent forward coming off the bench.
Averaging a different amount of minutes per game, he got stuck in when required or when the tempo from Manly was lower than it should have been, playing with a keen and aggressive nature in his minutes.
Again, as you look through the new Manly side, it’s difficult to pinpoint a player that will have similar effect on the surface – the closest being recruit Richie Fa’aoso.

Fa’aoso, known for his hard-hitting style of footy will be a much needed boost and a solid replacement for Lussick, but with the forward depth at Manly strong, one has to wonder whether he will play for the club.

Looking at Manly’s recruits, there’s quite a few of them, with former Eels Justin Horo, Jason Seage and Esi Tonga joining the club, former Dragon David Gower joining, Gold Coast Titans duo Kayne Lawton and Brenton Lawrence joining, as well as several youngsters from other clubs inclduing James Hasson, Michael Chee Kam, Peter Hiku and Ligi Sao.

As to which one of their new recruits if any play in the opening round remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the depth required for the NRL is there, should injuries or suspension strike.
Some of the players signed come with heavy criticisms, however, particularly Eels duo Justin Horo and Esi Tonga.

With many Eels fans pleased to have been rid of the two, there’s no doubting that on their day, they are talented players.
Despite that, however, both have received criticism from Eels fans in the past for not applying themselves completely, often resulting in lazy or pedestrian performances, games that ultimately saw them dropped from the side or receiving reduced minutes.
A new club can, however, bring a fresh chance for a player to cement a spot and both Horo and Tonga will be keen to do that with a few spots open, given some injuries.

The biggest injury concern for Manly, though, something that might hamper their attack and overall play, is the news that Glenn Stewart is out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
That news is a spanner in the works for Manly fans, given how well Stewart links up with his brother Brett through the middle of the park, or on the right side in attack with Jamie Lyon.
With no Stewart, the creative ball-playing ability is lacking in the forwards for Manly, and it remains to be seen if that affects their right side attack drastically.

When you look through the forwards that can potentially replace him, you have Jamie Buhrer, Justin Horo or Michael Chee-Kam – the three favourites to replace Stewart whilst he’s injure
Buhrer, whilst a very good player overall as he has shown, is used to running onto the ball as a fringe back-rower, rather than being one to take the line and cause problems like Stewart does, before linking up with his outside men.
Whether he can adapt to such a role in the absence of Stewart remains to be seen, but it’s not a role that he’s used to playing.

When it comes to Horo in that regard, as mentioned above, whilst at times lazy, it is a fresh chance for him to prove his worth at his new club – the only problem being that more often than not, Horo’s hands let him down in attack, thus limiting his overall chances to showcase some of his ball-playing ability.
He has decent ball skills, but they aren’t to the level that Stewart has illustrated in the past on that right side of the Sea Eagles’ attack.

Finally, there’s the young Michael Chee-Kam, a recruit from the Canberra Raiders. Still a bit raw as a player overall and coming off a bit of knee surgery during the off-season, you would imagine that Buhrer and Horo are in front of him to take Stewart’s spot.
Despite that, Chee-Kam does not come without criticisms to his game also – with Raiders fans believing that he often tends to do too much himself and tries to make a difference, often resulting in an errant pass or a stray offload and losing possession.
In a game of NRL where possession and scoring crucial points is everything, is that something Manly should consider, and would it cost them points overall?

Despite all that, with a consistent core in place to start Rd 1 in Brett Stewart at fullback, Kieran Foran at five-eighth, Daly Cherry-Evans at halfback and the sometimes under-rated Matt Ballin at hooker, the Sea Eagles once again have the pieces to be a genuine title contender.
Mix in the new recruits as mentioned previously as well as other veterans like Brent Kite, Jason King and Anthony Watmough – Manly have the tools in their arsenal to challenge the top sides.

One player to watch that could be a smokey for a starting spot is young winger Jacob Gagan, who joined the club from the Eels in the off-season.
With all the talent in the world and versatile across the back-line, he is capable of becoming a very good player in first-grade – the key being, he has to stay on the field for as long as possible.
Gagan’s injury concerns in the past have played a part in his departure from the Eels with knee, shoulder and back problems hampering Gagan during his time at the Eels.

Largely the same side in the crucial positions, Manly fans would once again expect to be thereabouts come September, and you would presume that they will be.

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

14. Joe Galuvao
15. Brenton Lawrence
16. Richie Fa’aoso
17. George Rose

By ricky

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