Ladder position: 11th
Competition points: 18
Points scored: 528
Points conceded: 699
The sting of a sixth-place finish and immediate finals exit in 2015 was set to motivate the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles this season, but with significant changes to their coaching and playing rosters, 2016 was a disappointing one at Brookvale. Despite showing plenty of attacking prowess in the later stages – and finishing as the eighth-best attacking team in the competition – the Sea Eagles’ notoriously poor defence did not give them a realistic chance to play finals football this year.
Manly certainly showed glimpse of a more competitive side in 2016, particularly lifting against the best teams. Of their eight matches against the final top four sides, the Sea Eagles were only comprehensively beaten once – a 34-16 loss to the Tigers back in Round 1. They did not lose by more than six after that point and even beat the Cutters, Mounties and Tigers later in the season. With the team coming together nicely in attack, Manly provided sufficient ‘nuisance value’ to competitors as they approached September.
Based on competition, this is a simple one to pick: Manly’s 42-12 demolition of Illawarra in Round 9 was a sight to behold and a major upset. The Cutters, who were sitting pretty with five wins from seven games, completely came undone in the Country Round match and it must be said had an off day at Nowra Showground. Regardless, the class of Nicholas Hynes, Ben Fritz and Brad Parker was enough to convincingly put away one of the form teams, capitalising on schoolboy errors. It followed on from a near-miraculous comeback against ladder leaders Mounties in their last game, two weeks prior. Then sitting at three wins from eight matches, Manly looked some chance of hitting enough form to make the top eight.
It was Round 23 and the season was dead and buried for both teams – but that can’t excuse the poor effort put forward against the last-placed Knights three Saturdays ago. The 62-26 drubbing, which was the highest-scoring match of the year, was also named Newcastle’s best match in our review of their season – a year with few highlights. While neither side had anything but pride to play for, only one turned up to Cessnock Sports Ground with the intent to play for 80 minutes. It was all downhill after the Sea Eagles’ two early tries and the Knights’ backs ran rampant to notch up the monster score.
Manly were not looking like the 11th-best team in the competition in the early part of the season and following their big win over Illawarra, the Sea Eagles could have certainly pushed for a finals berth if they maintained their form. A heartbreaking loss to the Bears as the siren sounded, however, would prove enough to break a side that had already endured some narrow losses in the previous two months. Losses to the Warriors and Bulldogs soon followed and the likelihood of a top eight finish was beginning to slip away.
Pita Godinet was one clear standout in a struggling Manly outfit this year, playing 19 of the side’s 22 matches, scoring four tries and setting up many more in his first season back from the English Super League. When the going got tough at the back end of the season, the Sea Eagles skipper managed to get his side to challenge their opposition. With a number of players off-contract and expected to find new clubs in 2017, Godinet told NSWRL.com.au about the importance of having fun in those last few games.
“We just had to empty the tanks and do it for each other,” the former Warrior said. “We just all spoke to each other to just dig deep and just enjoy it.”
Other Sea Eagles stars in 2016 included Hugh Pratt, Jamil Hopoate, Dylan Kelly and when playing in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, Apisai Koroisau. Kelly, in particular, was one of the best in a victorious Intrust Super Premiership NSW Residents team back in May and was a definite highlight throughout the year.
Destined for the NRL:
Since making his Intrust Super Premiership NSW debut in Round 7, Brad Parker has looked very promising in the back line for the Sea Eagles. The 19-year-old had already impressed at Manly and earned his NRL debut in Round 19 as his side sunk the Warriors in extra-time. With two more first grade appearances to his name, it seems likely that he will be a part of a rejuvenated back five next year. Liam Knight, Jamil Hopoate and Addin Fonua-Blake could also be hopeful of more NRL experience in 2017.
The Sea Eagles are, as expected, an actively rebuilding club. In all facets at Brookvale – the coaching and playing staff, the management and club culture, the Sea Eagles will leave no stone unturned in ushering out the old and bringing in the new as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Manly appear to be a step ahead of Newcastle in this regard, but it will be a tough ask to bring in instant success following a suspected mass player exodus. Having averaged almost 40 points in their last eight encounters, however, the focus for the new playing group will be clear: they must defend their line far better to be competitive in future.
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.