Ready to RETURN TO THE TOP
The Sea Eagles are entering the post-Jamie Lyon era.
The former captain was the strongest remaining link to one of Manly’s golden periods - a seven-year bracket in which the club made four grand finals and won two of them.
As the NRL world knows, it hasn’t been a good run of late for the Sea Eagles, having missed the top eight for the past two seasons. It’s a sore point for a club that is so used to being on top.
While there's been uncertainty with the retirement of Lyon, the maroon and white army will be happy to hear the club’s newest Kangaroo and local junior Jake Trbojevic expects a finals foray in 2017.
"It's very important [we make the top eight]... obviously every club wants to be in the finals and we’re no different," Trbojevic tells Peninsula Living.
"We're going to work really hard to make sure we are there at the end of the season and have all the supporters behind us.
“The boys have all been ripping in, training really hard and we've got some good new players, so it’s exciting times for the club.”
Trent Barrett shares his lock's optimism. After a tough start to his head coaching career, he feels he and his team are much better positioned to be a major threat.
"We're probably a little in front of where we were last year in terms of the stability in the team and the guys being used to me,” Barrett says.
"I’m 12 months in now and most of the guys know what the expectations are... there’s also more depth and those younger blokes are all a year older as well, which is only going to help.”
It's no surprise Barrett is feeling more confident. This time last year, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, Api Koroisau and Tom Trojevic were out with injury, and Dylan Walker was being groomed to play at five-eighth. Now, all are back to full health, and the club has recruited seasoned pivot Blake Green, which will ensure Walker will return to the centres where he’s most comfortable.
"The acquisition of Blake Green has been helpful already. His leadership and experience has been pretty evident at training the last few weeks he's been there,” Barrett continues.
"Just having a healthy spine to start the preseason has been a massive bonus compared to where we were this time last year.”
As for a few other new players, Barrett reveals, "Cameron Cullen's ﬁtted in really well - he's a tough little bugger and he’s popular amongst the players, and Johnno Wright’s been terrific as well. He's been a real steady and calm influence, a total professional... so we do have some depth there."
While the loss of their premiership-winning skipper is already being felt at their Narrabeen base, Koroisau insists others are stepping up in Lyon's place.
"It's different [without Lyon]," he admits.
"The Manly culture has always been there and it always will be but having a guy like him with over 300 games experience - I think a lot of the boys are really picking up the slack, especially Cherry-Evans and Nate Myles.
"But the vibe around the place is really good, and the boys are looking sharp."
Koroisau says a strong recruitment drive - including former NSW representative Akuila Uate, Blake Green, Curtis Sironen and Shaun Lane - is fostering healthy competition and belief on the beaches.
"In any great team, you need good competition - you know it pushes everyone to be better and forces yourself to make decisions you need to make and be tough," the Fijian national says.
"We have the players now to really lead us forward and really give us that experience to help us go all the way.
"Blake Green's going to make the world of difference. It'll take a lot of the pressure off Cherry-Evans and allow him to play his game. So he's already making a big impact."
Trbojevic is clearly thrilled about Green's arrival, too.
"He's a quality player. He's got a lot of experience, he's coming from the Melbourne Storm, so a great side there. He's been really good so far," he gushes.
"Hopefully we can all learn from him and it'll improve us as a team."
And how is Jake's little brother Tom dealing with the growing weight of expectation?
"He had a good year last year but that's the challenge of footy - you've got to back it up. So hopefully he can have another good year. There's a bit of expectation there, but he's not thinking too much about it - he's just focused on training hard each week," Trbojevic reveals.
Manly has also entered into a historic partnership with Blacktown Workers this year. The Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles will be the feeder team in the NSW Cup, which will open up one of rugby league's strongest junior nurseries and significantly improve the club's depth.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the dawn of another halcyon era for the mighty Sea Eagles.