By Keith Sheldon, 1 Mar 2016
Manly, Manly never changes. It has been a few long years since the Sea Eagles have gone out and purchased any big names, but now the Silvertails are back.
Manly’s spending spree over the past year has been, well, incredible.
2015 was a very disappointing season for the Sea Eagles, they missed the eight for the first time since 2004 and for the first time in their history they were favourites for the spoon for a large portion of 2015.
They may have ended the season in red-hot form, but their start was woeful, winning only one of their first seven games. To state exactly what went wrong simply, they didn’t have the forwards anymore, and they were rolled over far too regularly.
But in response, Manly’s roster has changed to a ridiculous degree. They lost many players like Kieran Foran, Peta Hiku, Matt Ballin, Justin Horo, Willie Mason, David Williams, Ligi Sao, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Clinton Gutherson and, most importantly, the greatest player of all-time James Hasson.
That is a lot of losses, but in return Manly have gained Nate Myles, Lewis Brown, Api Koroisau, Darcy Lussick, Matt Parcell, Martin Taupau and Dylan Walker. They also lost fan favourite club coach Geoff Toovey and gained unknown entity Trent Barrett.
I can’t remember a side that has made as many changes in the space of a year as Manly have.
But has this aggressive recruitment improved the squad? Will they manage to make the eight this year or will they once again disappoint their rather insular fan-base?
Before I continue I should note I am part of that insular fan-base. I’ll try to keep the bias out, but let’s get on with this.
1. Brett Stewart
2. Jorge Taufua
3. Steve Matai
4. Jamie Lyon
5. Tom Trbojevic
6. Dylan Walker
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Jake Trbojevic
9. Api Koroisau
10. Nate Myles
11. Feleti Mateo
12. Lewis Brown
13. Martin Taupau
14. Darcy Lussick
15. Brenton Lawrence
16. Jamie Buhrer
17. Matt Parcell
Once again, Manly come into 2015 with a ridiculous back five. Brett Stewart is a freak. He may be getting on in age, but was Manly’s best player last year.
I have a lot of respect for Stewart, because early on in his career he was a guy who played the game based on his ridiculous speed. However since he had his legs destroyed over two seasons and lost a yard or two of pace, his game has evolved and changed into one revolving more around his playmaking ability.
Last year Stewart set up a lot of tries, and scored a lot as well, maintaining his ridiculous try-scoring rate of 0.733 per game. He is one of the game’s most lethal fullbacks when he is close to the opposition try line, and his supporting game is top notch despite his somewhat lacklustre speed. He will have another great year in 2016.
Jorge Taufua is one of the most powerful wingers in the game. He is a classic ‘winger in a second rower’s body’ and is very good at making metres and alleviating some work from the forward pack. Taufua has got a few issues handling high balls but he most certainly improved in 2015, especially after his abysmal attempts in 2014. A great ball runner, a great finisher and a pretty good defender.
Steve Matai delivered one of the biggest hits of all time in 2015. Do I really need to say much more?
Jamie Lyon is my waifu. He is a centre with the ball-playing skill and kicking game of a half, which is why he has spent so much time in the halves I guess. He is the king of fooling defences and creating tries for his wingers as far as centres are concerned. He is getting up there in age and had a pretty injured-hampered year last season, but when he was on the field you could see Manly’s attack was just that much more potent.
Then there is the last outside back, Tommy Trbojevic. He is the first of the Trbojevic brothers and boy does he look the goods. Of all the up-and-coming young fullbacks he is the most established, and already looks the most promising. His performances in the NYC, first grade and the Auckland Nines demonstrate his freakish ability.
Daly Cherry-Evans, Manly’s own backflipping half-giraffe half-human player. Say what you will about him, you can’t deny he is a great player. He dominated Melbourne twice last year, and when Manly won it was mostly on the back of his impressive performances.
Without Foran, or any real halves partner, this ’10 million dollar man’ will be running the ship at Manly by himself, and whether he can do it or not is going to be vital for the Sea Eagles. From the performances he produced last year while playing alongside people like Blake Leary and Feleti Mateo, however, he can handle that pressure.
Now we are onto the second Trbojevic brother, Jake. With injuries to Brenton Lawrence and Josh Starling, Jake was the only first-grade standard forward Manly had last season. But he excelled.
Trbojevic was in the starting side only a few weeks after debuting, being the only Manly forward that averaged more than 100 metres a game last year, and he made some very impressive hits in defence. He improved more and more each game and looks set to continue that trend next year.
Speaking of props, Nate Myles will be a decent addition for the 2015 season, but the biggest addition for Manly is the fact that Lawrence is back. He has been Manly’s main prop since 2013 but sat out all of 2015 with a back injury. However, his back has finally healed, much to the relief of many Manly players.
Lawrence is ridiculously quick for a big man, he out-speeds some centres with his pace, which helps him rack up the metres. Having a prop of his ability on the bench will help this forward pack significantly. He was knocking on the door of State of Origin selection in 2014, and if he has another season like that this Manly side will benefit a lot.
The second rowers of this side are all pretty above average, with the variation available a highlight. Lewis Brown adds a very powerful running game and vital utility value to the side. Jamie Buhrer is this team’s workhorse, one with a dodgy knee but still a workhorse when he is healthy. He makes a load of tackles which Manly will appreciate with the loss of Ballin.
Feleti Mateo is a player with some ridiculous inconsistency issues, but he has the playmaking skills equal to that of some of the better halves in the game. Considering this year is a contract year he will have a lot to prove, and we may see some of the best we have seen out of this guy.
But now we get to Manly’s biggest player with Martin ‘Kapow’ Taupau. Kapow was the first big off-season signing for the 2016 season and he is a very good one since he really solidifies that forward pack. The guy has a body that makes him look like he came straight out of Dragon Ball Z, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could destroy the planet with one of his palms.
People like to question Taupau’s consistency, with some people even comparing him to Dave Taylor. But given Manly’s history of improving most forwards that come to the club (heck, Lawrence wasn’t making first grade at the Titans) it is safe to say he will improve that aspect. And what Taupau brings is size and power, which is what Manly were desperately after last year.
The dummy halves are both very young and promising as well. As much as I love Ballin, he just doesn’t have the offensive game of his two replacements. From what I have seen of Api Koroisau he looks very talented, racking up some impressive performances in the halves and at dummy-half last year at Penrith. He is a perfect example of the new type of dummy-half, he will make quite a few tackles, but provides a kicking option and some potent attack.
However, the spotlight is on the bench dummy half and his partner in crime, Matt Parcell. Everyone has probably seen highlights of this kid before but he completely lit the Queensland Cup alight with his ridiculous ability. He scored five tries in the semi-finals and was awarded the man of the match in the NRL State Championship.
Parcell’s speed is ridiculous, his passing from dummy half is deadly and his support game is phenomenal. He was one of the best players in this year’s Auckland Nines and I wouldn’t be surprised if he forces Api Koroisau out of the hooking role by the end of the year.