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After returning to finals footy in 2017, Manly will be aiming high in 2018. Jack Clifton previews their year ahead.
2017 was a bounce back year for the Manly Sea Eagles as they made the top eight and finished with an impressive 14 wins from 24 games. When comparing this to their previous output of 8 wins in 2016, you would be mistaken for thinking that fans on the Northern Beaches were content with how 2017 finished.
However a week one exit at the hands of Penrith left a sour taste in the mouth of the Manly side and they will be looking to improve further in season 2018.
Adding to this is the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the club with the salary cap allegations which no doubt will provide Manly with a siege mentality this season and further motivation to take the competition by storm.
The creative talent of Daly Cherry Evans, Tom Trbojevic and Api Korisau gives the Sea Eagles a very talented spine that will trouble even the best defences in the league. Adding in the power of Jake Trbojevic and silky skills of fellow back-rower Joel Thompson and the Sea Eagles have a very formidable roster. They have no problems making yards up the field and will be confident of making teams pay when they make it into the opposition 20.
Cherry Evans in particular will be hoping for a career year as he looks to put Manly on his shoulders as well as try and wrestle away the QLD number 7 jumper. That motivation may help him. If DCE finds any kind of form, then Manly will be near the top of the ladder.
External pressures will be something that Trent Barrett needs to battle in 2018 to keep his side on track. Hasler did a good job of avoiding it and Barrett will need to take a leaf from his book for Manly to stay focused.
Further more; Manly's lack of Finals experience will hurt them. They played just the one finals game last season (losing 22-10 to Penrith) and hadn't made the finals the previous two seasons.
The burning question - can big time players in DCE, the Trbojevic brothers and Thompson can buck this trend?
As mentioned above, Daly Cherry Evans will be pivotal to Manly's chances this season. His short passing game and how he links up with Tom Trbojevic will be very important. How he combines with Lachlan Croker (who is favoured to win the race for the number 6 jersey) will also be key to any success.
Also keep a close eye on his kicking game. At times in 2017 it was very poor. Consistency is needed in this area, even more so when Manly are close to the line.
Lachlan Croker is one to keep any eye on, especially if he makes the starting side. He has been plying his trade with Mounties in the NSW Cup. Unfortunately injuries limited him to minimal game time down in the nation's capital, and he gets a new lease of life up in Manly.
He has good pace for playing in the halves and good vision, particularly when running the football. Think he will be a good foil for DCE and may roll into that running half role in playing five-eighth.