Manly’s 2021 season was littered with enough positive narratives - Tom Trbojevic’s Dally M Medal and Rueben Garrick’s record-breaking statistical year - that any of the club’s pitfalls have been somewhat easy to gloss over.
Securing most of the players that earned the Sea Eagles a preliminary final berth in 2021, the only notable movements within the side have been the departures of Curtis Sironen, Cade Cust and Moses Suli.
Tom Trbojevic’s fitness is the key to their season, as it was last year, but Manly should be in for another big charge into September if all goes to plan following a year where they outdid expectations.
Trbojevic is joined by stars of the game including Daly Cherry-Evans, Martin Taupau, Reuben Garrick and his own brother Jake. Anything other than a high finish will be deemed as unacceptable by fans on the Northern Beaches.
Ins: Ethan Bullemor (Brisbane Broncos, 2023), Gordon Chan Kum Tong (2023), Jamie Humphreys (2023), Jacob Sykes (2022)
Outs: Cade Cust (Wigan Warriors), Tevita Funa (rugby union), Jack Gosiewski (St George Illawarra Dragons), Zac Saddler (released), Curtis Sironen (St Helens RLFC), Moses Suli (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Star player: Tom Trbojevic
At risk of sounding unoriginal, Manly, for better or for worse, goes to the beat of Trbojevic’s drum.
In just 18 games last year, Tom finished top three in tries, offloads and tackle breaks, taking home Dally M Player of the Year and leading his side to a preliminary final. While Manly must become less Tom-dependent in the coming years, his individual brilliance and ability to play effortlessly as a ballplayer in the backline are good for at least a few wins a season.
Rising star: Haumole Olakau'atu
Olakau’atu rumbled onto the scene in 2021, making his season debut in Round 6 where he quickly proved his position in the starting squad, starting 18 games at second row for the silvertails.
Only 23 years old, Olakau’atu is a devastating runner and offers Manly exactly what they need in 2022 - explosiveness up the middle and the ability to score on his own within ten metres of the goal line.
Most under pressure: Brad Parker
The only real criticism of Manly’s roster is the ability of their centres. Parker is a solid defensive outside back and enjoyed one of his better seasons in 2021, earning himself a contract that he will keep him with the club until 2023, but in a league where nearly every team has a centre who can create on their own Parker just isn’t that type of player.
Expect some of the youth of the team, such as Kaeo Weeks, Ben Trbojevic, and Tolutua Koula, to be snapping at Parker’s ankles for his spot.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 1, vs Sea Eagles, at BlueBet Stadium (Thu, Mar 10, 8:05pm)
Match 2: Round 2, vs Roosters, at SCG (Fri, Mar 18, 8:05pm)
Match 3: Round 12, vs Storm, at AAMI Park (Thu, May 26, 7:50pm)
Match 4: Round 21, vs Eels, at 4 Pines Park (Fri, Aug 5, 7:55pm)
Match 5: Round 22, vs Titans, at Cbus Super Stadium (Sun, Aug 14, 4:05pm)
Under Des Hasler and with a healthy crop of stars, the expectation for Manly has to be a top-four finish. While there aren’t many additions to the side, they have added Ethan Bullemor from the Broncos, who is a solid forward.
Coupling this with their current stars and the emergence of others such as Haumole Olakau'atu, Jason Saab, and Josh Schuster, Manly should repeat the success they had last season.
The biggest question marks for the side, and what will likely determine their final position, is if some of the top performers from last year, such as Rueben Garrick and Keiran Foran, can maintain that same productivity.