While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Sea Eagles fly high until a finals wing-clipping.
Manly has been one of the most successful clubs of the modern era, and came into the 2017 season with the proud club not appearing in the finals series since 2014. With the departures of club legends in Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai, 2017 promised to be the start of a new era on the northern beaches.
With the emergence of brothers Jake and Tom Trbojevic as the next superstars of the club, the Eagles had strong foundations set to build a new team around the talented duo. Superstar halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was also a key piece of the puzzle and the acquisition of former Storm five-eighth Blake Green to partner DCE in the halves to allow strike weapon Dylan Walker to move out wide looked to be a shrewd move. Coach Trent Barrett finally had a squad that was a great mix of youth with experience and only returning to the finals would be an accepted pass mark in 2017.
Manly got off to a slow start losing their opening matches against the Eels and Rabbitohs at Brookvale Oval, which already had Trent Barrett under pressure. However this quickly disappeared with a stunning 30-8 upset victory over the Cowboys in Townsville in Round 3, followed by a 36-0 hiding of Des Hasler's Bulldogs combined with a strong win over the Roosters placing the Eagles in the mix to feature come September. In fact Manly were undefeated away from home heading into Round 10, when a horror Tom Trbojevic injury saw them go down 24-14 against Brisbane and with their strike weapon sidelined for a brief period, the Eagles grinded out some tough wins through the Origin period before getting back on track with a huge 35-18 win over the defending premiers Cronulla at Shark Park in Round 16.
The Sea Eagles continued their good form heading into Round 20 sitting third on the NRL ladder and fans where thinking that a Top 4 spot was well within their reach. Back to back thrashings by the Dragons and then the Storm in Rounds 20 and 21 saw Manly slip out of the Top 4 rapidly and the Eagles then simply ran out of gas, losing four of their last five to just hang onto sixth place at the end of the regular season.
Finishing sixth on the NRL ladder after 26 rounds was a great achievement by the new look Eagles side and despite being bundled out of the finals race in controversial circumstances in week 1 by Penrith, to send Trent Barrett's men packing their bags earlier than they would have liked, it was a promising year. Manly's season will have fans looking forward to what they can bring in 2018 with the spine of Api Koroisau, Daly Charry-Evans, Blake Green and Tom Trbojevic having another season under their belt together in 2018.
After winning six of their last seven, many were starting to see Manly as a smokey to push for the premiership. The form of Tom Trbojevic was electric and Daly Cherry-Evans was playing the best football of his career as they travelled to Wollongong in Round 20 to play and out of sorts Dragons, who also looked like a team that could do some damage early in the season. A first half masterclass from Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop stunned the Eagles, with the Dragons leading 30-0 at halftime, which was the biggest halftime lead in the NRL since 2001. The Dragons went on to win the match 52-22, but the loss crushed the Eagles' confidence, who went on to lose to the eventual premiers Melbourne 40-6 the very next week. Despite a late revival, when they defeated the Roosters for the second time and still managing to finish sixth on the ladder, a 30-16 Round 24 loss to the Bulldogs spoke volumes as to their late season form, which saw the Eagles limp into the playoffs which did not help their momentum when it mattered.
Manly's new look backline clicked on numerous times during the season, with the Eagles scoring the 3rd most tries of any team in 2017. With the double threat in offence of Daly Cherry-Evans at first receiver and Tom Trbojevic's dynamic attack from fullback causing havoc for opposition defences, Manly proved to have one of the most threatening backlines in the premiership. The recruitment of Blake Green at five-eighth cannot be underestimated either, with Green playing his role as a foil perfectly, which unleashed Cherry-Evans' best football since he lead them to their last premiership in 2009. Dylan Walker's first half of the season saw the former Rabbitohs premiership winner also return to his best and rookie Brian Kelly was also excellent in his first year in the top grade. By far the most surprising return to form for the Sea Eagles was former Australian and NSW winger Akuila Uate. Unwanted and playing reserve grade at the Knights last year, Uate returned to form with a bang, scoring 14 tries and averaging 113m per game.
Lasting the distance. Manly looked primed for a shock Top 4 finish with six weeks left but fell away to only just hang onto sixth spot after 26 rounds. Manly had a late revival in Round 22, where they defeated the Roosters convincingly before the wheels well and truly came off, with back to back losses to the lower ranked Tigers and Bulldogs who exposed their vulnerable right edge on numerous occasions, laying the blueprint for other side's to follow late in the season. While Manly's attack was a massive improvement, it was their defence this year which let them down, conceding 512 points, which ranked them as the sixth worst defensive team in the competition.
Tom Trbojevic firmly cemented his status as the club's next great fullback, with his second full year in the top grade going up yet another gear scoring 11 tries, 21 line breaks and a stunning 17 try assists for the season. The 20 year old loomed as a certainty to be picked to make his NSW debut, only for an injury in Round 12 against the Broncos ruling the youngster out cruelly just before the selection of the Blues squad for the State of Origin opener. Trbojevic has been rewarded for his dynamic form with selection in the Australian squad for the Rugby League World Cup which commences this week.
Daly Cherry-Evans was awarded the club's best and fairest and rightly so, with the former Queensland and Australian representative finally showing why he is worth every cent of his million dollar a year long term contract on the Northern Beaches. Cherry-Evans found his best form in attack with a team high 19 try assists and while the recruitment of Blake Green at five-eighth proved a masterstroke, what can't be overlooked was the form of wrecking ball Martin Taupau and NSW Origin forward Jake Trbojevic, who gave the forward pack some much needed go forward and quick play the ball, which the Eagles had lacked in the past few seasons.
Nate Myles had a tremendously disappointing season for the Sea Eagles, with the marquee prop let go mid-season to sign with the Melbourne Storm. Myles was a controversial selection for Queensland in Game I of the series, where he was dropped for State of Origin II, bringing an end to a highly successful 32 game career with the Maroons. A day later he was released by the Sea Eagles, which brought his Manly career to a disappointing end.
Brian Kelly was signed from the Gold Coast Titans and made his Sea Eagles debut at centre in Round 1, accepting the daunting task of filling the giant hole left by club legend Steve Matai. Kelly had a strong start to his NRL career, holding his spot for the year, scoring 7 tries and averaging 101m per game. Kelly was found out in defence a few times towards the backend of the season and will need this aspect of his game to improve, with Under 20's star Tom Wright pushing for a top grade debut next year after leading the Manly colts to the Holden Cup premiership from eighth position.
The Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles finished the season in 10th place and were overall pretty disappointing in the statewide competition. The Workers had a horrible start to the year which they never recovered from letting in an average of 24 points per game. The silver lining though was the form of former Titan's five-eighth Cameron Cullen, who was named the NSW Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year, despite results not going the Workers way in 2017.
Sea Eagles Under 20's, were by far the Cinderella story of the Holden Cup, finishing in 8th position, the young Eagles went on a giant-killing run to the Grand Final, with former Australian Schoolboys rugby union star Tom Wright scoring a hat-trick to knockout the highly fancied minor premiers Cronulla on their way to the big dance. The young Eagles then pulled off one of the most remarkable Grand Final wins in Holden Cup history when theys trailed 14-0 after as many minutes against the Parramatta Eels. However the boys from the Northern beaches fought back to steal the game in the dying minutes when hooker Manase Fainu found rampaging prop Keith Titmuss who barged over to score, with Tevita Funa converting to give the Eagles the final Under 20's title, just a year after finishing last.
After two seasons of not playing finals football, the Sea Eagles will only improve in 2018. They will now have a settled roster, with a quality spine in Daly Cherry-Evans, Blake Green, Api Koroisau and Tom Trbojevic providing the nucleus in attack. Their forward pack also features consistent performers in Martin Taupau and Jake Trbojevic who keep on improving and are laying the platform. Trent Barrett will no doubt be working on the defence side of things in the off-season, as he will have a very similar squad and will be if anything looking to find some depth in the backrow which was a struggle at times when injury struck.
At this stage, their lineup will likely look this:
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Darcy Lussick 9. Apisau Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic
14. Lewis Brown 15. Lloyd Perrett 16. Addin Fonua-Blake 17. Shaun Lane