The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles entered the first grade rugby league competition way back in 1947 and, despite a brief dalliance with the North Sydney Bears, they’ve been a constant fixture in the league ever since.
In that time, the club has managed to claim eight NRL (or NSWRL) Premierships as well as the 1980 Craven Mild Cup, a pair of National Panasonic Cups in 1982 & 1983 and the World Club Challenge in 2009.
One thing they’ve never ‘won’ is the wooden spoon. They’re not quite the short-odds favourites to claim the unwanted crown in 2018, but they’re right in the mix and Saturday’s capitulation at home to the Panthers in front of a dismal home crowd is anything to go by, the faithful should be worried.
The entire 2018 season has been a nightmare for the Sea Eagles and there’s little to point to and reassure fans in the short-term.
No bright side just yet
Crowd figures have been woeful. The first grade side has strung together just five wins and sits amongst the bottom three on the competition ladder. Players have seemingly been exiled and shunted out of the club in bizarre circumstances and the club also managed to cop punishment for exceeding the salary cap.
Critics of the over-crowded Sydney market have long pointed to a lack of Leagues club or poker machine revenue as a big case for pushing the club out of the big smoke and into an expansion market, but while the club remained successful or at least competitive on-field, there was little real substance behind any push for relocation.
Now, in addition to the off-field dramas and in-fighting amongst ownership interests, the club have lost the on-field performances that kept them relevant.Simply put, the Sea Eagles are right in contention as the worst situation of any club in the NRL right now.
As things stand, they’re ahead of the hapless Parramatta Eels and North Queensland Cowboys on the competition ladder, but with a new stadium and significant financial backing behind them, the Eels look better positioned to move themselves on an upward trajectory.
Even the Cowboys, who have perhaps best personified the ‘organisational inertia’ theory wonderfully described by my colleague Bo Nicholson, have the bare bones of a good roster and will rebuild.
The Sea Eagles have long been able to fend off criticism and issues with their management and off-field structure by winning football games, if they lose that ability, the vultures may start circling.
Avoiding the wooden spoon an absolute must
Of more immediate concern, especially for embattled coach Trent Barrett is the fact the club are mired in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
With just the Eels and Cowboys below the, the 14th placed Manly are only a lowly two points and a smattering of for-and-against away from the Eels at the very bottom of the pile and while it’s unlikely the Eels will get even one more win this season, if they do manage to grab one, things look pretty grim on the northern beaches.
Manly face a tricky trip to a Cronulla side fighting for a top-four spot this weekend before hosting fellow strugglers Canterbury in Round 22.
From there, they host the Titans who just blew out the cobwebs with a big win over the finals-contending Warriors and a trip to Campbelltown Stadium to tackle the inconsistent Wests Tigers. Manly then head to Brisbane to take on the Broncos to finish the season. There are some winnable games left for the Sea Eagles, but if the sides quits like they did last Saturday against Penrith, each of their remaining games are also losable.
Trent Barrett may struggle to hold onto his first head coaching gig in the NRL if the club avoids the wooden spoon or not, but the club may face far graver concerns than sacking a coach if their on-field downward spiral becomes as mired in controversy and bad headlines as their off-field efforts.
Do you think the Sea Eagles could end up with the wooden spoon in 2018? Let us know in the comments below.