The Manly Sea Eagles would have gained a lot of confidence from their late-season surge to sneak into the top eight in last season's NSW Cup Finals Series, as well as a very proud performance at the NRL Auckland Nines. But Manly’s 2016 season hopes took a severe hit with a season-ending injury to pivotal playmaker Jayden Hodges. It’s near impossible to recover from such a heavy hit. However, if anyone loves to prove the doubters wrong it is Manly who thrive in the villain’s role.
Off-season focus: It’s been a very busy off season for the Sea Eagles with a new head coach in Trent Barrett in the NRL and a number of players leaving and joining the club. “It's certainly been different,” Manly Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach Luke Williamson says. “There's been a lot of change in personnel and football staff in our organisation. There's a whole different feel. The focus for us has been making the sure the staff and players are combining well and understanding what we want to achieve.”
Biggest gain: Desperate to turn around an unfortunate string of injuries, Tim Moltzen joins Manly. His mission to climb back into the NRL starts in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW and he will need to impress early to press his claims. Moltzen unquestionably is a talented player but the question remains – can he rediscover his early career form that lit the NRL on fire?
Toughest loss: As well as the departure of David Williams, Manly lost integral players in Michael Chee-Kam, Justin Horo, Clinton Gutherson and Jack Littlejohn. Littlejohn in particular was a standout for the Sea Eagles last season. In an intriguing twist, Manly take on Littlejohn’s new team – Wests Tigers – in their opening match of the season. However, their biggest loss of the season is without question Hodges who suffered a season-ending injury during the Auckland Nines. Hodges was the never-ending engine of the side playing out of hooker, instigating every attacking raid. Hodges was on the fringe of becoming a first-grade regular this year and it will be tough to cover his inspirational efforts each week.
Coach Williamson says: “You want to win but we also want to make sure they're prepared to play first grade - that's our main objective. When we do play, of course we do want to win and ideally we would like to make finals again. Losing Jayden Hodges for 12 months is frustrating and disappointing. We've been trying to figure it out since that injury took place.”
Our prediction: There was a lot to look forward to for the Sea Eagles this season after last year’s run to the finals added to the promising signs of a spirited Auckland Nines campaign. But the loss of Hodges is devastating. Couple that with a different halves pairing and it’s hard to see Manly reaching the finals this year. A lot will depend on Moltzen and health. He could be the fairytale story of the season if he recaptures his form and pushes the Sea Eagles to an unlikely finals appearance.
Comings and goings
Gains: Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers), Fabian Goodall (Parramatta Eels)
Losses: Jack Littlejohn (Wests Tigers), Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers), Justin Horo (Catalan Dragons), David Williams (released), Clinton Gutherson (Parramatta Eels)