Ladder position: 6th
Points for: 552
Points against: 512
Top try scorer: Akuila Uate (14 tries)
Home Record: 7-5
Away Record: 7-5
Finals Record: 0-1
Highlight of the season
Their return to the finals is an obvious highlight after a two-year absence from where Manly fans feel their club belongs. The Sea Eagles were finals participants from 2005-2014 after missing three of the previous five years under the failed Northern Eagles merger.
The manner in which the Sea Eagles had returned to the finals included some incredibly impressive performances, especially against the Roosters, Sharks and Cowboys. Manly were the only team to beat the second-placed Roosters twice. Their first victory came in round five, where they ended the Roosters’ undefeated start to the season before coming from behind to win in round 22.
Some special mentions must go out to their away victories at the Sharks, Cowboys, and Rabbitohs alongside a 36-0 demolition of the Bulldogs at home. The aforementioned away victories had occurred in the first half of the year, in which they had not lost a match away, eventually finishing with a 7-5 away record.
The Sea Eagles’ attack was a constant threat to their opposition having finished with 552 points across the season, the NRL’s fourth best record.
Lowlight of the season
Although it was a relief that the Sea Eagles made the play-offs, a case can be made that there were some golden opportunities to break into the top four. The Dragons were able to resoundingly defeat the Sea Eagles in both matches played this season, including a 52-22 thrashing in Wollongong. Moreover, the matches against the Tigers and the Bulldogs were clear opportunities for the Sea Eagles to book a top four spot, especially given the lowly positions of these two teams. They had led the Tigers 20-6 before letting their advantage slip while complacency saw them fall to the lowly Bulldogs.
The aforementioned matches highlight the clear problem that the Sea Eagles have had all year, which is in defence, as they conceded the most points out of anyone in the top eight.
What went right
As mentioned earlier, the Sea Eagles flew into the finals after a two-year absence on the back of some incredibly fearsome attack. On their day, the Sea Eagles were a constant threat to the opposition’s defence. This was certainly discovered by the eventual second-placed Roosters.
There was the period between rounds 11 and 17, in which the Sea Eagles would embark on a five match winning streak, a run which saw them named a serious Premiership threat..
What went wrong
They were presented with a clear opportunity in the final four weeks of the regular season to stake their claims for a top four finish, with some relatively simple matches against teams well out of finals contention. Yet they squandered the chance by losing 30-26 against the Tigers and 30-16 against the Bulldogs.
The aforementioned matches, as well as their 52-22 loss to the Dragons, exposed some conspicuous deficiencies in defence. They were ranked 10th overall and had the worst defence out of all the teams in the top eight, conceding 512 points for the year.
Their form at home is definitely an area which requires improvement. Until the beginning of June, the Sea Eagles would win only one match at home. They would eventually finish with a 7-5 home record, however, compared to Premiership contenders such as the Storm, Roosters and Broncos, this is comparatively inferior, especially considering that Brookvale Oval previously had a reputation as a fortress.
Stand out player
Without a doubt, the player to stand out above his peers was the skipper, in Daly Cherry-Evans. Despite being somewhat maligned by opposition supporters, including those north of the border, DCE has turned in some very impressive performances. Prior to the beginning of the season, DCE was made the skipper of the Sea Eagles, as the successor to Jamie Lyon, who was to retire.
Since then, DCE has relished his role as captain, as his statistics improved substantially from 2016, as shown below:
- 6 tries (5 in 2016)
- 45 tackle breaks (25 in 2016)
- 4 line breaks (1 in 2016)
- 20 line break assists (12 in 2016)
- 24 try assists (17 in 2016)
DCE was in contention for a spot in the third State of Origin game for Queensland, due to the injuries to Johnathan Thurston and Darius Boyd. However, he was to eventually lose out to Ben Hunt and Cameron Munster. Nevertheless, DCE continued to produce high-quality performances, en route to leading the Sea Eagles into the finals (where they would eventually be eliminated by the Panthers), as well as winning the Best and Fairest award for the Sea Eagles.
A case could be made as well for Jake Trbojevic and Akuila Uate. Trbojevic was appointed as the vice-captain of the Sea Eagles and he appeared to relish this position by turning in some impressive performances during the season. He was rewarded with all three appearances for New South Wales, in his debut year in State of Origin, as well as being voted Players’ Player of the Year for 2017. For Uate, he was to thrive in his new surroundings, following his switch from the Knights. He would eventually finish as the Sea Eagles’ top try scorer for the year, with 14. With some of the performances which Uate submitted, there was even some talk of him making a return to State of Origin for the Blues.
Having switched to the Sea Eagles from the Titans, 21-year-old Brian Kelly played 23 matches in 2017, in which he made a blistering start by scoring five tries in the first seven rounds. He was to eventually finish the season with seven tries. As well as that, Kelly would average 11.57 hit ups per match. With his performances in 2017, Kelly was to be rewarded with a place in what was to be the final City-Country Origin match ever. That was to end in disappointment for Kelly and his Country teammates, as they would go down 20-10 to City. He was also rewarded with the Rookie of the Year award in 2017 for the Sea Eagles.
Recruitment for 2018
2018 Gains: Toafofoa Sipley (New Zealand Warriors)
2018 Losses: Brenton Lawrence (Gold Coast Titans), Steve Matai (retired), Nate Myles (released), Brett Stewart (retired).
The Sea Eagles have been relatively quiet in the recruitment front, with prop Toafofoa Sipley being their only major signing from the Warriors. Conversely, prop Brenton Lawrence will return home to the Titans, having spent five years at the Northern Beaches. Sipley joins a forward pack, featuring the likes of Trbojevic and Martin Taupau.
Nate Myles was released mid-season to the Storm, while stalwarts Brett Stewart and Steve Matai had already announced their retirements.
The target for next year will be to finish in the top four and have a good crack at winning the Premiership trophy. To achieve the aforementioned, they should begin by improving on their defence. They must also work on their consistency, as the best teams not only had a balanced combination of attack and defence, they were also very consistent in their results.
Manly will certainly want to be winning their matches at home on a much more regular basis. Although they would eventually finish with a 7-5 home record, they opened the season with only one win at Lottoland. It was not that long ago that the opposition would be fearful of a visit to the Peninsula at “Fortress Brookvale”.
The Sea Eagles certainly have the team to mount a challenge for the Premiership in years to come while age is definitely on their side. If they make the necessary improvements and stay injury-free, then there is no reason why further success could not be on the way.
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