Rookie Manly coach Trent Barrett has blamed a wretched run of injuries as the reason why the Sea Eagles have missed the NRL finals for the second straight season.
Manly were put out of their misery on Sunday after being thumped 36-6 by Penrith in the final game of the regular season at the foot of the mountains.
They finished seven points out of the finals race in 12th spot – a major disappointment for a club widely tipped to be top-eight contenders with a revamped roster.
However, Barrett couldn’t even bring himself to take solace in a six-all second half against a white-hot Panthers outfit at Pepper Stadium.
“You can’t take too much out of anything in the game to be honest. We’ll have a rest now. We’ve got a lot of work to do next year,” Barrett said.
The Sea Eagles appeared ready to fight for finals honours after clawing their way to eighth spot with a 4-4 record after round eight, including a shock win over Cronulla in round three.
However a four-game winning streak in July was sandwiched by seven-game and five-game losing streaks that put to bed any fairytale finals shot for the first-year coach.
Barrett said he wasn’t helped by an injury toll that limited key men Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai, Dylan Walker, Jamie Buhrer, and Matt Parcell at various points in the year.
“It sounds like an excuse, but that’s the reality of it. It’s affected us big time,” he said.
He insists his squad can make up the four games required to make the finals next season.
“Hopefully the injury gods smile on us a little bit,” he said.
“I’ll never question the boys’ effort. They’re trying. It could’ve been an horrific scoreline if we weren’t having a crack. I’ll never doubt that. We’re just down on troops and experience.”
Priority number one in the off-season will be sorting out the futures of injured veterans Brett Stewart (knee) and Steve Matai (neck), both of whom are being backed to recover for next year.
Already gone from the 2016 roster are Jamie Lyon (retirement), Luke Burgess, Feleti Mateo (released) and Siosaia Vave (Parramatta), with only Shaun Lane (Warriors) and mid-season recruit Matthew Wright (North Queensland) coming in.
Melbourne playmaker Blake Green is believed to have agreed to sign on.
At least four players, including Dylan Walker, Daly Cherry-Evans and brothers Tom and Jake Trbojevic, will have off-season surgery to address niggling injuries.
WOUNDED EAGLES (games missed)
Steve Matai – 16
Brenton Lawrence – 13
Brett Stewart – 13
Jamie Buhrer – 10
Matt Parcell – 10
Apisai Koroisau – 7
Jamie Lyon – 7
Dylan Walker – 6
Daly Cherry-Evans – 5