SEAEAGLES SET TO SOAR this season
Death, taxes and... the Sea Eagles making the finals.
On the peninsula, these have been three of life's certainties over the past decade.
However, there has been a big turnover of players and critics' regular comments about the Manly Warringah team's lack of experience and size cannot be laughed off in the manner we have grown accustomed to.
There are still a few old heads knocking around when Peninsula Living goes to visit the Sea Eagles at their training ground recently.
The Prince of Brookvale - Brett Stewart - is barking orders from the back during an opposed ball work session, Captain Jamie Lyon is also on the park readying himself to contest a cross field bomb, and Kieran Foran is sharing his time between the training paddock and Sea Eagles headquarters at their Narrabeen precinct.
Unfortunately, these three Manly stalwarts have one thing in common...they're backs.
Up front in the engine room it’s a very different story - the Sea Eagles forwards are barely recognisable. Whether we want to admit it or not, our hopes of winning a ninth premiership in 2015 have been severely hampered by the exodus of the big three - Jason King, Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough.
King, Gifty and Choc have played together in the maroon and white sinoe 2003 (even longer if you Include the asterisk that was the Northern Eagles). They chalked up close to 700 games between them, and have a combined representative tally of 53 matches. And now all of their experience guile and leadership is gone.
Their departure has left a great deal of uncertainty, and for anxious fans, induced the sort of free-flowing sweat more commonly associated with three hours on a banana chair at Freshie beach.
So who do you turn to when a lack of experience threatens to derail what has been a golden era in Manly’s rich history? None other than one of the most polarising figures in the game - Willie Mason. Mason has done it all in the game, he‘s played for NSW, Tonga and Australia; won a premiership, and even a Clive Churchili Medal. But arguably his greatest challenge thus far will be to team up with Matt Ballin, big improver Brenton Lawrence and fellow seasoned recruits Feleti Mateo and Luke Burgess to galvanise an inexperienced forward pack and mould it into a premiership- winning force.
The 34-year-old, now living in Collaroy, understands there will be pressure placed squarely on his shoulders by Manly faithfuls and as you’d expect, he’s backing himself to deliver.
"Obvioust they've lost some experience [at the Sea Eagles] and some really good men - rep players, grand ﬁnal winners – so when you lose players like that, its massive in any club,” Mason tells Peninsula Living.
"So to come in at this time there is pressure but I think it’sjust the pressure of playing with Manly, because everyone has been looking at Manly and Melbourne in the last 10 years as the pinnacle in the game.”
So we shouldn’t expect big packs to roll over us the way the Bunnies did late last year?
Mason laughs, "I don’t think so, aye! Look every forward pack can handle every fonrvard pack on its day. Souths last year was a bit different, they were a standout pack and pretty much won it with their forwards. But they've lost Sam Burgess and Ben Teo. You can't say that’s not a big loss.”
Jamie Lyon isn't fazed by the lack of faith shown in his forwards - instead he's excited about the growing depth in that department.
"We're used to it it's been going on...every year they say the same thing that we're getting older and slower and we're going to fall off the radar a little bit but we're all conﬁdent in each other here so it doesn't worry us one bit,” the skipper says deﬁantly.
“It‘s always sad to see your mates leave and you're always going to miss them but it paves the way for our talented youngsters.”
Coach Geoff Toovey agrees with his captain.
"There have been a few signiﬁcant changes in personnel over the last probably two to three years but we've always managed and we've got some great up and comers coming through, “he explains.
“It might take them a little while to get established but we think we‘ve supplemented that with some quality players in Feleti Mateo and Willie Mason.”
The coach is also thrilled about the last-minute signing of the eldest Burgess, who is sure to add some starch to the front row stocks over the next two seasons.
"Luke is really coming into his prime as a front rower and we’re pleased to have added more experience, power and depth to our forward pack with his late addition to the squad," Toovey says.
Regardless of the playing roster and the loss of the big three, the mighty Sea Eagles still have one important thing going for them and Mason neatly sums it up - “it's just their mentality they just don't lose."