After years of tumult, during which their Narrabeen training headquarters was compared to a viper’s pit, new coach Trent Barrett believes an atmosphere of harmony and conviviality prevail at Manly.
Handed the NRL coaching reins after Geoff Toovey’s cut-throat sacking, Barrett was asked to bring together a house divided.
Schisms within the squad, rumoured to revolve around halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, plagued the club over the past several years and were said to be factors in the exit of favourite sons Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart.
After getting his feet under the desk last November in his first head coach role, one of Barrett’s first tasks was to put his stamp on the players and ensure they were united – a task he feels has been achieved with big input from the senior members of the squad.
“As a group they get on well and that’s half the battle,” Barrett told AAP.
“We spent a lot of time together and we’ve got a pretty cohesive group of blokes that like being around each other.
“The football side of things is sometimes the easier stuff, handling everything outside of that is a management job and we’re doing our best with that.
“I’m really happy with the way everyone’s fitting in. But we’re still not there and we’ve still got work to do.”
The axe swung freely in the off-season with the likes of Matt Ballin, Peta Hiku, Willie Mason, Clinton Gutherson and Justin Horo told they were no longer wanted while five-eighth Kieran Foran departed for Parramatta and a bigger pay day.
Manly lured a number of big-name signings, including Queensland Origin front-rower Nate Myles, controversy-plagued former South Sydney centre Dylan Walker, who is being shaped as a five-eighth to replace Foran, and Martin Taupau, surprisingly released early by the Wests Tigers.
Barrett also made a couple of handy pick ups in highly-rated Brisbane youngster Matt Parcell and former premiership-winning No.9 Apisai Koroisau, who will battle it out for the starting hooker spot.
Back-rower Lewis Brown (Penrith) and prop Darcy Lussick (Parramatta) are also key new faces.
With Foran gone, and Cherry-Evans handed multi-million dollar, “lifetime” deal, there will be big expectations on the halfback to steer the Sea Eagles back to the finals.
While Barrett was able to assemble one of the strongest 17-man squads in the competition, he knew the immediate challenge was to ensure they gel as a cohesive unit on and off the field.
He brought the squad back to pre-season training early and put an emphasis on team bonding.
“We’ve had a long pre-season, we came back on November 4 and came back straight after New Year’s. They have done a lot of work but it’s been a decision from them,” Barrett said.
“The senior blokes have made a lot of effort and embraced what we’re trying to do.
“The players will always have more pull over the group than you will, if they’re on board that makes things easy.”
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Premierships: 8 – 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1987, 1996, 2008, 2011
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – 9th, 2014 – semi-finalists, 2013 – grand finalists
Coach: Trent Barrett
Captain: Jamie Lyon
Gains: Lewis Brown (Penrith), Nathan Green (St George Illawarra), Isaac John (Penrith), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith), Darcy Lussick (Parramatta), Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers), Nate Myles (Gold Coast), Matt Parcell (Brisbane), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers), Dylan Walker (South Sydney).
Losses: Matt Ballin (Wests Tigers), Cheyse Blair (Melbourne), Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers), Kieran Foran (Parramatta), Clinton Gutherson (Parramatta), James Hasson (Parramatta), Peta Hiku (Penrith), Justin Horo (Catalan Dragons), Dunamis Lui (St George Illawarra), Willie Mason (Catalan Dragons), Ligi Sao (Warriors), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Cronulla), David Williams retired).
Strength: Front row. After having arguably the weakest forward pack in the competition last year, the addition of Nate Myles, Martin Taupau and Darcy Lussick, as well as the return of Brenton Lawrence from a back injury, has given them real starch.
Weakness: The back row. While the side boasts plenty of go-forward through the middle, they still lack penetration and spark in their second rowers.
Best team: Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Tom Trbojevic, Dylan Walker, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jake Trbojevic, Matt Parcell, Nate Myles, Jamie Buhrer, Lewis Brown, Martin Taupau. Interchange: Darcy Lussick, Tom Symonds, Brenton Lawrence, Api Koroisau.
Predicted finish: 4th