Will Evans’ series of 2017 NRL club previews appeared in the summer special of Rugby League Review magazine.
Manly underwent a massive overhaul this time last year, replacing coach Geoff Toovey with rookie mentor Trent Barrett and bringing in a host of big-name recruits. The result? The club’s worst season since 2003, registering only eight wins to finish 13th.
It was just the Sea Eagles’ third bottom-four finish since 1953, while it’s fair to say international recruits Nate Myles, Dylan Walker, Martin Taupau and Lewis Brown all fell below expectations to varying degrees.
The club has taken a hatchet to their playing squad again this off-season, with Jamie Buher, Luke Burgess, Liam Knight, Feleti Mateo, Josh Starling, Tom Symonds, Siosia Vave and Brayden Williame moving on. Inspirational captain Jamie Lyon has retired, while injury-prone veteran Steve Matai is slated to follow him.
Matt Parcell has also reportedly been signed by Leeds Rhinos, eroding the club’s dummy-half depth.
Just four players remain from Manly’s 2013 grand final squad – two of whom, Brenton Lawrence and the out-of-favour Brett Stewart, played left than half of the Sea Eagles’ games this year.
The buys this year are certainly underwhelming compared to last season’s, with Shaun Lane, Curtis Sironen, Akuila Uate and Jonathan Wright looking to revive their careers. Blake Green is a good pick-up, however, and Cameron Cullen is another quality player in the half-hooker mould.
Ex-Bulldog Lloyd Perrett will be hoping for a breakout year, while hot outside-back prospect Brian Kelly – a pick-up from the Titans – could help alleviate Manly’s problems out wide.
— FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) December 9, 2016
On the bright side, the Sea Eagles still have the outstanding Tom and Jake Trbojevic, along with Daly Cherry-Evans, Walker, Tapau and Myles, to build a team around. But there’s no question the big expectations of a return to the finals that surrounded the Sea Eagles at the start of 2016 won’t be there when March rolls around.
BEST RECRUIT: Journeyman five-eighth Blake Green may be just the steadying influence the Sea Eagles need. An ideal foil for Cooper Cronk during the past two seasons at Melbourne, the 30-year-old should take the heat off linchpin Daly Cherry-Evans after five players were used in the No.6 jumper during 2016.
STRENGTH: Two future superstars in the Trbojevic brothers, a blue-chip halfback, and explosive rep stars such as Walker and Taupau provide the Sea Eagles with the basis of a line-up that can compete with any team on their day.
WEAKNESS: After a dismal campaign, Manly has lost another clutch of experienced stars and are lacking depth. The club has gambled on some questionable recruits, which may be disastrous given the high-profile posse that arrived last summer largely failed to deliver.
KEY MAN: It’s a big ask of a 20-year-old with just one full season of NRL football under his belt, but Tom Trbojevic looks set to develop into Manly’s marquee man at fullback. The club’s 2016 Player of the Year is undeniably one of the most exciting talents in the NRL and will be crucial to the Sea Eagles turning their fortunes around.
— telegraph_sport (@telegraph_sport) October 20, 2016
PLAYER TO WATCH: Despite making his NSW Origin debut, it was a disappointing year on and off the field for Dylan Walker, but his dynamic talents are irrefutable. Still only 22, Walker will be allowed to settle back in the centres (where Manly is desperately short) after an underwhelming stint at five-eighth.
YOUNG GUN: Arguably Manly’s biggest off-season coup was the acquisition of highly sought-after young three-quarter Brian Kelly. With Lyon gone and Steve Matai’s career in the balance, there’s a big opening at centre – and this guy has the chops to fill it.
— Manly Sea Eagles (@SeaEagles) November 30, 2016
UNDER PRESSURE: After his infamous back-flip on the Titans midway through 2015, Daly Cherry-Evans struggled to live up to his ‘$10 million-man’ tag. He battled to adjust without halves partner Kieran Foran and was unwanted by rep selectors – but the Sea Eagles’ fate largely rests of DCE rediscovering his best.
NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Nate Myles was lauded as potentially one of the buys of the year, but he made minimal impact in just 16 appearances after arriving from the Gold Coast, got dropped from the Test team and was fortunate to be retained by Queensland.
THE COACH: It was a torrid first year on the NRL coaching rollercoaster for Trent Barrett, who appeared frustrated and out of his depth for the bulk of the season. Another bottom-four finish is unlikely to be tolerated.
— Sporting News AU (@sportingnewsau) December 16, 2016
THE DRAW: The Sea Eagles’ draw is ranked as the 10th toughest based on this year’s standings, playing four of the 2016 finalists twice but only squaring off against the heavyweight Cowboys, Broncos and Sharks once each. Their schedule is travel-heavy, however, making three trips to Queensland, one to Auckland, one to Perth and playing away in Canberra and Melbourne.
LAST FIVE COACHES:
Trent Barrett (2016-current)
Geoff Toovey (2012-15)
Des Hasler (2004-11)
Peter Sharp (1999, 2003)
Bob Fulton (1993-99)
BEST LINE-UP IN 2017
1 Tom Trbojevic
2 Jorge Taufua
3 Dylan Walker
4 Matthew Wright
5 Akuila Uate
6 Blake Green
7 Daly Cherry-Evans
8 Nate Myles
9 Apisai Koroisau
10 Darcy Lussick
11 Martin Taupau
12 Shaun Lane
13 Jake Trbojevic
14 Lewis Brown
15 Addin Fonua-Blake
16 Brenton Lawrence
17 Lloyd Perrett
— Manly Sea Eagles (@SeaEagles) December 19, 2016