Manly Sea Eagles – 2014 NRL Preview

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After making the Grand Final in 2013, will the Sea Eagles be able to go one better in 2014? In part 14 of his 16 part preview of the 2014 NRL season, rugby league writer Daniel Boss will provide his thoughts.

2013 review

The 2013 NRL premiership was within Manly’s grasp as they held a 10 point lead with 30 minutes to go in the decider. However, the Roosters were able to get on a roll and left the Sea Eagles for dead, by scoring 18 unanswered points to take out the title. This was a very bitter end for a very good season, which included one of the greatest wins for the club in the preliminary final against Souths where they came back from a 14-0 deficit to reach their 19th Grand Final. Of course, this ‘expert’ thought that they would finish 11th last season, basing it on the age of the squad. I won’t make that mistake again.

Statistically, Manly improved in both attack and defence in 2013. In attack, they scored just less than four points per game more than the season average. This was also an improvement of just less than four points scored per game when compared with the 2012 season. In defence, the Sea Eagles also improved as they conceded about one and a half points less per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. When compared to the 2013 season average, the Sea Eagles conceded more than five fewer points per game than that average. The club is hoping that they can maintain these strong performances, despite a great amount of turnover in the forward pack.

Outside backs

All five of the first choice outside backs from 2013 are all still with the club in 2014. If Brett Stewart is fit, then he will be the fullback as he still possesses strong finishing ability even though he is at the back end of his career. The Sea Eagles are well served in fullback depth with Peter Hiku and Clinton Gutherson in the squad. On the wings, the likely starters are Jorge Taufua and David Williams. However, Williams may miss a lot of time this season after he picked up an injury in the Auckland Nines. This means that Hiku or signing Cheyse Blair may need to fill in while Williams is out. As for Taufua, he became one of the best try finishers in the NRL last season and almost secured a NSW jersey to boot. The centre pair for Manly will be Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai. Lyon continues to star for Manly, while Matai is still as aggressive as he has ever been. In regards to depth, Blair can also cover in the centres if required.

Halves

The big strength for the Sea Eagles is their NRL-best (in my opinion) halves combination of Keiran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans. Foran is the steady influence, who mainly plays down the left and possesses a strong running game. Cherry-Evans is a perfect complement as he is more creative with the ball in hand, provides the majority of the kicking game and directs the team around the field. The improvement in Cherry-Evans over his three seasons in the NRL has been quite dramatic, as he has forced his way into the Australian and Queensland sides. It says something that Foran is the less talked about of this pairing, as Foran did captain his country in the ANZAC Test last year.

An injury to either player will be a massive blow for Manly, as there is no specialist half to back them up. Jamie Lyon and Tom Symonds did provide cover last season but both are big drop offs in regards to playing in the halves.

Front row

This is the biggest weakness of Manly’s side in my opinion, especially as they lost a lot of quality props in the off-season. Brent Kite, George Rose and David Gower all went to other NRL clubs, while Joe Galuvao and Richie Fa’aoso both retired. This means that Brenton Lawrence and James Hasson will have to continue to improve on the back of their impressive seasons in 2013. Manly still has Jason King, who will be looking to have an injury-free season. A season that may well be his last. In addition to these three, the Sea Eagles added Dunamis Lui and Josh Starling to their prop stocks. They have been able to get the most of a relatively cheap purchase in the past (Lawrence and Justin Horo last year for example) and they are hoping they are able to get similar contributions from both Lui and Starling in 2014. At hooker, the Sea Eagles have the ever reliable Matt Ballin, who just may be the most underrated player in the NRL. They have also picked up Jayden Hodges to provide cover. Hodges did show glimpses in limited opportunities for the Cowboys last season and should develop while playing and training alongside Ballin.

Back row

Last year’s starting back row of Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo and Glenn Stewart are all back for Manly in 2014. Watmough is the heart and soul of the forward pack, even though he may not be as dynamic of a ball runner as he was in past seasons. Horo forged a strong partnership with Keiran Foran last season as he scored quite a few tries in 2013, especially in the early rounds. When Stewart combines with his brother, Cherry-Evans and Lyon, opposition defences have their hands full. It is one of the most dangerous combinations in the league and plenty of tries are scored as a result of this. Manly has strong back row depth with Jamie Buhrer and Tom Symonds able to provide cover in the back row if needed.

Bench

Last season, Manly played with two props and two back rowers on the bench. I expect a similar structure in 2014, as Matt Ballin usually plays 80 minutes and as both Jamie Buhrer and Tom Symonds can provide cover to most other positions, in particular in the backline and at hooker. Symonds was very strong last season off the bench and will be looking to continue providing impact off the bench in 2014.

Coach

Even though Geoff Toovey only has two seasons under his belt as a head coach, he already has a signature moment. That moment was his rant after the loss to Souths in Round 23. It’s ridiculous! In all seriousness, Toovey has continued where Des Hasler left off and it must be said that Toovey is one of the better coaches in the NRL at the moment. The side has improved its attacking prowess under his watch and are one of the more entertaining sides to watch in the league.

Best squad

  1. Brett Stewart
  2. Jorge Taufua
  3. Jamie Lyon
  4. Steve Matai
  5. David Williams
  6. Kieran Foran
  7. Daly Cherry-Evans
  8. Brenton Lawrence
  9. Matt Ballin
  10. Jason King
  11. Anthony Watmough
  12. Justin Horo
  13. Glenn Stewart
  14. Tom Symonds
  15. Jamie Buhrer
  16. Dunamis Lui
  17. James Hasson

Prediction

4th. As mentioned above, I doubted this side last season and I will not make the same mistake in 2014. They have the best halves combination in the NRL and this alone will get them a fair share of wins. Across the field, they have a strong side and will be up there in contention for the premiership again this season. Depth may be an issue and if the Sea Eagles do suffer from a heavy injury toll, then they may struggle. However, they find a way to stay relatively healthy and for the most part, they find their best form at the back end of the season.

2014 Ladder Prediction

  1. Canterbury Bulldogs
  2. Manly Sea Eagles
  3. Melbourne Storm
  4. Penrith Panthers
  5. Newcastle Knights
  6. North Queensland Cowboys
  7. Cronulla Sharks
  8. Gold Coast Titans
  9. St George Illawarra Dragons
  10. Brisbane Broncos
  11. New Zealand Warriors
  12. Wests Tigers
  13. Parramatta Eels
  14. Canberra Raiders
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