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Preview 07: Manly-Warringah - Australian Rugby league News
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globalrugbyleague - Fri, 09 Mar 2007 09:42:00 GMT
Since coach Des Hasler took over in 2004, Manly have been taking new steps forward over the past two seasons. But just how far away are they really from having a good crack at the title?

This is a side which has made great strides up the competition ladder (13th – 2004, 8th -2005 & 6th -2006) in recent seasons.

Yet even with a great leader like Ben Kennedy in the pack, they’ve been unable to score a win in their last three finals fixtures.

Being held scoreless in their final game of 2006 (Dragons 28-0) was a big disappointment and they’ll be hungry to show remorse for that effort.

The Manly faithful are sick of seeing all the great work come undone in one or two games at the business end of the season. It's time to climb that extra rung on the ladder of opportunity.

In the off-season, they’ve bought well with their biggest signing no surprise. Jamie Lyon was always headed to Manly. Only he had take the longer route to get there from Parramatta.

Hasler will have his own selection headache, particularly in the halves. Will Matt Orford team up with Travis Burns at five-eighth or Jamie Lyon?

If Hasler picks Lyon to wear the number 6 jersey, Burns could be off to the bench. But if Lyon isn’t as convincing at 5/8th in the NRL, he can move back to centre, so he’s versatile.

Lyon can be devastating in either position period.

If Burns gets the first crack at continuing in the role he’s held down, this won’t be such a problem as Lyon can easily slip into the centres and leave plenty of opposition defenders face down in the dirt courtesy of his speed down the edges.

Burns is noted for his outstanding defence and is particularly confident in confronting mammoths much bigger then him in all-round size.

It would be a waste to see Burns starting off the bench when he’s been doing a superb job over the last two seasons.

There is talk Burns could go to Hooker if Lyon steals his five-eighth role. And that means Michael Monoghan could be displaced again.

For Hasler it’s really about nurturing all this talent the right way.

The great thing is that unlike many other NRL teams who have had to change their halves because of player departures, Manly will get a choice in the matter.

This means more time will be spent on improving current skill sets instead of importing a lot of them and hoping for the best.

Manly’s biggest weakness is not the loss of Ben Kennedy at lock but rather the inability to keep a successful team together for long enough periods.

They build momentum and then one of their big stars either retires or heads elsewhere. This can rupture any good rhythm that has developed and be a slight set back.

Kennedy was the heart and soul that fired up the team last season. However he did battle various injuries which reduced his game time, so maybe a new face is needed.

How long it takes new members of this team to fit into the positions, the game plan and the club culture are all interesting questions which will be answered soon enough.

However that’s the nature of the beast that is football and the club will either cope or perish in the process. Manly are still a season by season proposition.

But they are finding the consistency that differentiates the great teams from the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s only the back end of the season that is their achilles heel.

You’ll definitely see some competition in a lot of areas including goal kicking which wasn’t a let down for the Eagles in 2006 but it did hurt them on the odd occasion.

Orford has taken over from Ben Kennedy as captain but will he be able to concentrate on firing more frequently with greater responsibility on his shoulders?

So who is Ben Kennedy’s successor at lock? Steve Menzies is a strong possibility to make the move down to the back row.

He is a short-term solution with the Sea Eagles in a tug-of-war bid with Rugby Union for the services of Luke O’Donnell and with Menzies signaling he may not be around in 2008.

The Big Question?

Will Des Hasler learn to smile in the coaches box during the regular season? Intensity is good but not too much of anything. Can someone tell this man a funny joke before the game?

Maybe Manly could market their own stress balls and give Des a freebie.

Okay. Here’s the game plan. Des should smile during the regular season and then bring out the “I’m very serious” look during the finals.

What they must do?

Win a game in September. How else are the boys from Brookvale going to put themselves in a position to snatch their first premiership in 10-years?

On average they’ve conceded 33-points in their last 3 showdowns in the finals. That is too many points to give away.

The last 7 premiers to have taken out the competition since 2000 have conceded 13.59 points on average during the finals series.

This suggests Manly still have fair way to go and will need to seriously re-structure their big game strategies in 2007.

Coach: Des Hasler
CEO: Grant Meyer
Finishing Position: 4th

Gains: Jamie Lyon (St Helens), Glenn Hall (Roosters), Jack Afamasaga (Eels)

Losses: Ben Kennedy (Retired), Paul Stephenson (Sharks), Michael Witt (Warriors), Kylie Leuluai (Leeds)

Manly Sea Eagles Squad: Jack Afamasaga, Michael Bani, Matt Ballin, Steven Bell, Mark Bryant, Travis Burns, Adam Cuthbertson, Shane Dunley, Sione Finefeuiaki, Jon Grieve, Aaron Groom, Glenn Hall, Chris Hicks, Sam Key, Jason King, Brent Kite, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Sean Meaney, Steve Menzies, Michael Monaghan, Phil Morwood, Shane Neumann, Mark Offerdahl, Matt Orford, Michael Robertson, Jeff Robson, George Rose, Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, Chris Trembath, Anthony Watmough, Jason Wells, Luke Williamson - Read More, Here